I took a sociology class as a senior in high school. During one of the classes, the teacher asked us:
If you were on a sinking boat with your mother, your spouse, and your child, and you could only save one person, who would it be?
We were asked to show our answer by raising our hands while the teacher wrote the number of votes on the board for each answer. The entire class was split, as expected, between child and spouse.
Except for me.
In that moment, I said I’d save my mother.
Everyone in class laughed at me – Every. One. – Except the teacher. And we ended up in a class discussion about how I could possibly choose my mother over my spouse or my child.
My teacher, thankfully, was gracious enough to stick up for me by saying there was a cultural group somewhere out there in the world where saving the mother would have been the most popular answer.
Whether this is true or not, I was grateful to my teacher for supporting me and being willing to facilitate the ensuing discussion.
You see, at the time, I was trying to help the person in my life who was having the most difficult, vulnerable time in hers – my mom.
It was all I could think about.
So, considering the fact I was someone who’s parent was in crisis and who had no idea what it was like to have a spouse or a child of her own, I couldn’t come up with any other answer.
Helping my mom was the only thing that made sense to me – even if no one else in the room understood.
And that, in a nutshell, describes how most of my life has been.
You see, I was gifted with the ability to be different. I never quite figured out how to fit inside the box. I simply could not conform to popular opinion if it meant I couldn’t be honest with myself or true to my Soul.
I don’t blame my classmates for reacting the way they did. I equally don’t wish I’d reacted any differently. In fact, looking back at it, I think the day my entire sociology class made fun of me was one of the most powerful and empowering moments of my life.
I stood up for what was real in my life – as a teenager – in the face of ridicule and rejection from all my peers – because it was the right choice for me.
It was a hard, lonely lesson at the time, but being different is the role the Universe picked for me, and that classroom was the first real test of an adult strength and resolve at embracing who I would become as a woman.
When I think and reflect back on that experience, I now understand the bigger picture.
Which is this…
I was the teenager in the room reminding all the other teenagers in the room of how important their parents are.
And I was doing it at a time when, developmentally, most of my peers were rebelling against their parents and trying to get away from them.
Can you imagine the backlash of having an opinion that goes against the very nature of human development? Try telling the average teenager they need be thinking more about their parents than their future partners or children. It’s not the most pleasant of experiences.
Yet, it was, and always has been, my Soul’s calling to go against the grain and challenge the status quo.
It’s what the Universe requires of me. I’m the person reminding everyone else that there is always another way of thinking, being, and loving on this Earth.
It was so very hard as a teenager to be this way. I struggled throughout my childhood to fit in and be accepted. Sometimes I managed. Sometimes, clearly, I did not.
But now – 25 years later – I wholeheartedly embrace my uniqueness. And I thank every single person in that sociology class for laughing at me. I wouldn’t have the courage to be who I am today if it wasn’t for them.
Not everyone will agree with you. In fact, I dare say, if you’re truly living in your authenticity, there will be times when no one agrees with you.
Be authentic anyway.
I’ve since moved on from my sleepy little mid-western roots. But I will always be grateful for my childhood and all the opportunities it gave me to be the weird one.
Because there are deep, meaningful lessons in being weird, different, or unpopular.
Never deny yourself the opportunity to be the only one in the room who thinks the way you do. You have no idea the implications it may have on your life or the lives of others.
Don’t let anyone else’s opinion shatter your self-esteem or gnaw at what feels true and right in your own heart.
The only person who has to live with you your entire life is you. People who make fun of you may or may not grow out of their insecurity around you. It doesn’t matter. As long as you’re true to yourself, there’s no stopping what you can accomplish or become in life.
I’ve had the best life I can possibly imagine – because I never let anyone else’s opinion of how I should live interfere with how I actually live.
If you’re different, weird, or unpopular – especially in your younger years – be grateful. Learn to love your uniqueness, honor yourself, and walk the unpaved path.
You will never regret learning to respect yourself or love your life.
** Thank you Mr. Kerns for letting me be different. You were my favorite teacher. 🙂 **