When I was younger, I used to worry about pretty much anything that may have made me stand out from the crowd or mark me as somehow “not fitting in.” I knew I wasn’t like other people. I knew I didn’t have the same tastes in popular culture that most people did. In fact, many of the things that others loved the most, I couldn’t stand. And vice versa.
As a teenager, this was especially distressing to me; I wanted nothing more than to fit in and I didn’t. I couldn’t. But that didn’t stop me from trying. I was miserable, and a fraud.
Fast forward a few years to my first “professional” job after college, and there I was feeling like a fraud again. I just knew that someday soon, someone was going to find out that I didn’t know as much as they thought I did, or they’d find out that I was just some small-town, blue-collar girl masquerading in an urban white collar world.
I worked my way up to supervision and the feeling of being a fraud got worse. The worse the feeling got, the more I tried to be what I thought people expected me to be. I’d been doing it since childhood, so I never actually gave it any conscious thought – I just slipped farther into my “work persona.” And let me ‘fess up here… my work persona was an a**hole, especially after she made supervision.
Once again I was a big ole fraud. And once again, I was miserable.
Something about this simple quote was a major game changer for me. I started noticing that other people, happy people, weren’t as concerned about what others thought as I was. I also noticed that they celebrated their quirks and idiosyncrasies; or at least didn’t try to hide or deny them. It was a hell of an a-ha moment for me. I decided to try my hand at being me. It wasn’t easy.
I began by wearing jewelry that held some meaning for me. I wore necklaces under my shirt so that no one could see them, but I knew they were there. It felt surprisingly freeing. From there I moved to earrings that everyone could see and still the world didn’t fall apart and no one made disparaging remarks about them or me. In fact, people started complimenting my earrings and asking to see the necklace that was tucked into my shirt. They complimented the necklaces too. It’s a testament to just how far gone I was that this surprised me.
Fear gripped me at this point. It was a small voice that said, “well, jewelry is an acceptable way to express yourself, but be careful of doing much more than that.” I don’t know what consequences I thought might befall me, but I plateaued for awhile. I was a little happier, but still really stressed.
Little by little, I started finding ways to be myself: admitting when I was clueless, admitting when I’d said something stupid or lost my train of thought. (I was a serious case, I’m tellin’ ya.) I found the courage to dance in my seat at the bar and eventually to dance my way through the store or mall if the music was any good. Let me assure you that I’m no Ginger Rogers, but what I lack in skill I more than make up for in enthusiasm. Here’s the funny thing. I got way more looks and nods of approval than disapproval. The more I let myself be me, the happier I got and the less I cared if someone didn’t like me because of it. In short, I had a lot less stress. Did you catch that? I was happier AND had less stress because of it. What’s not to like??
Twenty years ago, if someone had told me that in my late 40s I’d be carrying a purse made from the cover of a wildly popular young adult novel, I’d have told them they were bonkers. What kind of professional would do something like that? But here I am at 47 carrying a purse made from a hardcover copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, with the title page laminated on the inside of the front cover and the first page of the first chapter laminated on the inside of the back cover. (Yes, I’m a huge Harry Potter fan.) It is the only purse I own. I carry it to work, to the grocery store, to the mall, and even to professional networking events. No matter where I go, I get compliments on it. These compliments usually start with some version of “OH MY GOD! Is that…” or “OMG, I LOVE your purse.” These compliments also usually involve a request to get a closer look at my purse. And it’s not just kids and teenagers, it’s adults – both women AND men, at all levels of employment including executives. It’s the damnedest thing. Not only am I letting myself be me and letting my freak flag fly, I’m getting complimented for doing so. If you’d have told me twenty years ago that that would happen, I’d have thought you were crazier than the person telling me I would be carrying a book purse.
Do you let your freak flag fly? How? If not, what’s holding you back? What’s one small thing you can do to start unfurling your flag? Tell me about it in the comments below.
And don’t forget to let your own freak flag fly a little higher by sharing this post.