Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Don't be your own worst enemy: A lesson I'm always learning

When I was young, I felt as if I didn't have control over my life. Part of it was social. I moved around a lot and never developed the sort of friendships that most kids use to build the social skills that they later use without thinking. Instead, I just seemed a bit ... retarded (and I mean that word in the clinical sense in which I was introduced to it when I volunteered in a special needs class in grade school).

As an outsider, I latched onto the few things that could act as a social crutch: being funny, being weird. These things at least made people pay attention and sometimes react positively. I also suffered from what was never correctly diagnosed as attention deficit disorder (ADD), and the memory problems that came with it were often a source of additional strange behavior. For example, I would carry around a giant gym back full of every book I might need because otherwise I would always forget to have any given book for a class.

As I grew older, these odd tics mostly melted away. I met enough people who were in the same boat, socially, in college to catch up and develop some social skills. But some of the tics stayed and became part of my persona. One of them was the urge to be strange enough to get noticed. The number of times in my life that I've created a situation that made me strange in order to stand out are... well, difficult to count. I've probably spent upwards of a working year explaining myself or trying to get a bureaucracy to cope with some strangeness or other. Why? Because it's how I roll, to use a phrase that's more modern than I am.

I suppose I should just be glad that I never did anything too permanent. I never changed my name to something obviously made up. I never got myself plastered with tattoos. I'm generally free of any major fits of poor judgement.

Now that I'm getting older and I'm starting to see those places where I've deliberately made my life difficult, I'm starting to unwind them, but let this be a warning to others: if something seems like a great way to draw attention, think carefully about why you want the attention. Don't tilt at windmills if you don't have to. At the same time, fight the good fight for your individuality if you must. There are times and places for it, but like all of life, there is a middle way.