Ever since I was little, I was known as the “quirky” girl. When my mom took me shopping for new back-to-school shoes in fifth grade, I picked out a pair of high-tops that strongly resembled a certain black and white farm animal. My two best friends, who had tagged along, literally fell to the ground, roaring with laughter, right in the middle of the shoe store. My mom saw their reaction and immediately went back to the girls’ shoe section, trying to help me find a different pair. It baffled me – I reminded her that I had already picked a cow-tastic set, and that I was ready for the check out line. She said, “But your friends don’t like them.” I replied, “But I do.”
Growing up, I never lost that resistance to peer pressure, or the need to fit in. I loved having braces. I didn’t care that none of my friends worshipped Hanson like I did. I loved the fact that I was the only kid in class with glasses because it made me stand out from my peers. I was confident in who I was, and understood that it didn’t matter what other people thought.
That is, until, I was faced with coming out as a lesbian. It was the first time in my life that I truly understood that feeling of, but what if other people don’t like this part of me? I was 18 years old, purposely choosing a college that was hundreds of miles away from my hometown, friends, and family, because I didn’t quite know how to tell everyone about this side of me. Being a ‘go big or go home’ sort of gal, I ended up coming out in a national teen-centric magazine (that’s another story in itself). And guess what? It was actually a lot like the moo-shoes incident and the ‘Mmmbop’ sing-a-longs of my youth. It wasn’t so scary after all. In fact, the thing that made me nervous to share with everyone is kind of seriously my favorite thing about me.
Just to clarify, this article isn’t necessarily about being gay. Everyone has something unique about them, but a lot of people feel some hesitation about sharing that (totally awesome) thing that makes them “different.” Whatever that thing is in your life that makes you stand out, big or small, here are some tips I have learned about sharing your uniqueness with the world, and why you should totally take the risk, too.
People will appreciate your confidence.
You know when you’re at a party, and you’re trying your best to mingle, but you keep getting stuck in crazy generic small talk? It’s really easy to play it safe in mixed company, but does anyone really like having boring conversations about the weather? Um, no. This is the perfect opportunity to take a risk and throw out that thing that you know makes you stand out — like the fact that while you’re watching Netflix, you’re in the kitchen making your own version of a Chopped mystery basket with your roommate — and you’d be happy to share your actually-really-delicious recipe for cinnamon and bacon wrapped avocados. If they look at you like you’re crazy, there’s no real loss — you never have to talk to them again (and they clearly take themselves too seriously, anyway, so why would you want to?). But if they look at you like the interesting person that you are, well, you just took your night (and theirs) from predictable to memorable in two point five seconds.
No one cares about your hang-ups as much as you do.
This sounds harsh, but I promise, it isn’t. While you’re sitting around worried about what other people will think about you, they are probably thinking about what other people are thinking about them. In other words, they are not thinking about you. This is a simple and classic concept that, if applied, will make your life tremendously easier. You know when your BFF calls you saying she can’t go out tonight because a “massive zit” just landed on her face, and then you tell her to prove it, so she texts you a selfie and you don’t even notice her skin because she is wearing a fabulous headband and has a perfect winged eyeliner thingy going on that you only wish you could do, but, ugh, you’re so bad at mastering make up trends, and your head looks like an egg in headbands, and — wait a second, you’re suddenly thinking about yourself, and not her blemish, that, btw, you probably wouldn’t have even noticed if she hadn’t pointed it out to you?
That’s exactly how many seconds everyone around you is thinking about your issues. I’m not saying that it’s not okay or valid to have “freak out” feelings, because it totally is (and who better to share those moments with than your BFF?). It’s simply important to realize we all go through moments of feeling uncomfortable in our skin, but you’re probably the only one who really notices them. Spending time worrying about what other people think about you keeps you from living your life, and, you know, YOLO.
Hiding is exhausting.
It’s been 11 years since I came out. I live in a super gay-friendly area with my wife, and I was on the board of my college’s LGBTQ club for two years. Needless to say, I have seen people in all stages of the acceptance process when it comes to their sexual orientation. I have stood witness to wildly successful coming out stories, where literally everyone embraced the newly-out person, and I have heard heartbreaking sobs of others being shunned by their entire family. I have also seen people who fall in love, get down on one knee, make the deposit on a wedding venue . . . only to postpone or call off their wedding, all because they can’t bring themselves to come out to their family. I have seen people turn to drugs, alcohol, self-harm, and eating disorders because it’s the only way they can cope with the burden of their secret.
But without exception, those who chose to come out — whether experiencing positive or negative results – felt the weight lift from their shoulders, and didn’t regret their choice to embrace the rainbow. Those who haven’t come out still have the stress, the burden, the pain, the embarrassment. My point here is that even if you share whatever is unique about you and it doesn’t turn out all sunshine and butterflies, there is something freeing about ridding yourself of a secret. Hiding who you are is exhausting and stressful, even if it’s something super small, like the fact that your friends hate on reality television all the time, but it’s the one thing that helps you unwind at the end of the day. It can be uncomfortable putting your true self out there in the world, but it’s the best way to get comfortable in your own skin.
You’re actually not that unique at all.
Um, wait, WHAT? Isn’t this article about embracing my uniqueness? *Loud whisper* I think this writer might be insane. . . Ahem, I can hear you. I’m totes sane, and I will use the Queen of Quirk, Zooey Deschanel, as the perfect example. Remember when she first came on the scene, and quirky gals everywhere did somersaults of joy for the film and television industry finally embracing a girl who was just like them? See what I just wrote there? That, like, a lot of girls could identify with this girl in glasses who liked to knit and had a non-trendy retro-style? Because they had all those things, too? Yep, I’m here to break it to you: you’re not unique. There are so many people out there who are just like you, and that’s something you can only find out if you share your unique thing with other people.
When I came out in college, I headed (slightly panicked. . .okay, really panicked) for the LGBTQ club on campus. I had no idea what to expect — I was too in my own head thinking about myself (see number 2 for a refresher on this topic), but I certainly did not expect the packed conference room with girls and guys just like me, who wanted to find other people who were just like them. There we all were, relieved to find out that we weren’t that different after all. We had tons of people to be “unique” with.