Fitting in (or not)
Let me just start by saying I’m a HUGE fan of listening instead of reading if I have the choice. I love podcasts, audio-books, music, and I probably chose a career that requires listening because it’s how I prefer to spend my days.
Don’t get me wrong; reading is very important and is a daily requirement for most of us. But if reading is not your preferred style of learning, it can be taxing and limiting… a daily strain on your patience and capacity for engagement. I received messages through high school and college that listening instead of reading is “lazy” or even “cheating,” (just a small contributing factor to my academic shame spiral/temporary drop out) but I later realized that my learning style and way of being engaged with material is different than others. What a concept!
Some love to create, some love to watch a creation. Some listen, talk, or feel with their hands. Some love history or biology or astronomy or numbers. I love to listen. Particularly, I love to listen to people talk about things that are essential to their existence. I love to listen to and try to grasp people’s most important, sacred, and human experiences. And I love to be in touch with my own human experience.
While writing this, I’m reminded of times when I was a teen or in my early twenties and someone much older and seemingly wiser would ask me a terrifying, daunting question about my “life goals,” “career interests,” or “hobbies.” (No wonder we feel such pressure to do something grand at such a young age.) When I was a child, I said, “veterinarian and animals.” Then at some point in my early teens I picked up on the idea that being a lawyer was an acceptable answer. Leading up to my shame spiral/temporary college drop out/academic hiatus, I collapsed under the idea that I didn’t know. I had NO idea where I fit into this life, career, hobby, goal-oriented world. I felt worthless and confused. In reality, my passion/career/goal/hobby didn’t fit into one of the common categories. I felt as though there was something wrong with me until I realized that I could make my own category. This process was not without many doubts, breakdowns, and wondering if I was crazy, but it led me to my pot of gold.
Looking back, I wonder what those caring, well-meaning adults would have said if I answered their questions of grandeur with a frank demeanor and straight face, ‘I want to engage with people by listening, talking, and connecting on an emotional level in order to heal wounds, create shared human experiences, and feel inspired along-side others on a daily basis.’
It’s a funny thought but I had no way of verbalizing it when I was young. I’m surprised, however, that even now it is not often well-received or understood by the casual, polite yet invasive party conversationalist. “What do you do?” can turn into a lengthy discussion or a very short one. This is not meant to be judgmental or downplay the importance of a variety of interests, passions, careers, and life goals, but rather to highlight the difficulty of feeling like an outsider, especially in our younger, most formative years to the more common life passions and career goals.
I can say with qualitative certainty that even those who fit into one box (career: engineer), do not fit into others (passion: unknown). It can also go something like this: ‘Goal/passion/spirituality/meaning/purpose: to make art. Career: ohmygawdimsuchafailure!!! Shame spiral!!’ Or, ‘Goal: find a partner who loves me. Objectives: overcome terror of being loved, improve self-esteem, find passion in life, heal old wounds. Hobbies: therapy and books about self-esteem that I hide in a newspaper when in public.’ These can all be very legitimate, difficult, and growth-producing scenarios with support and the knowledge that you are good, just as you are, without accomplishing any goals or figuring anything out.
A final piece of advice that I learned from a pre-school teacher years ago. She asked her class on a daily basis, “what do you LOVE?” They would talk about the things they love, in the moment, with no consequences or right answers. I try to ask young people (myself included) variations of this question: What do you LOVE? What does it mean to love someone or something? How does it feel to love? What does love sound like? What does love look like? If love were a poem or book, what would it say?
If you are wondering what I listen to or how I get it, I’ll try to share more often. I use Audible.com to buy audio-books and it has an iphone and Android app so you can take it on a walk or in the car. Currently listening to Brené Brown’s third book, “Daring Greatly” which can be accompanied with the Daring Greatly podcast in which Brené Brown answers questions about the book from readers/listeners. I use the Downcast app for podcasts. Current favorite: “Stuff You Missed in History Class” with Sarah Dowdey and Deblina Chakraborty (one of many fascinating HowStuffWorks.com podcasts).