I was never the popular kid growing up. Anything but, actually. At the same time, I never really disliked the groups of people that were considered “popular”; the jocks, the wealthy, the socially connected, the attractive. To me, they just “were”. I got along with most people. I suspect it was because I was conditioned as a child to be non-confrontational, therefore I felt it necessary to accommodate people and meet them where they were for who they were.
Throughout my schooling, this was the case. As soon as my classmates and I were equipped with the ability to categorize each other and form cliques, the chance was taken. Because I nor anyone in my family was socially connected to anything important in the community, nor was I really gifted with anything related to beauty, I was automatically and instantaneously relegated to the lower tiers of school-age hierarchy.
I don’t complain about this. If anything, I embrace it. I wasn’t any of those other groups, despite being able to fraternize with them. They weren’t me; I wasn’t them. I was in the marching band. I played soccer. On the playground during recess, I played war or pretended to hunt dinosaurs or that I was a mutant turtle skilled in the martial arts.
And besides the occasional run-in with a hostile football player in the locker room after gym class, or a lunatic hick unhappy I happened to make it to the lunch line before him and his hillbilly gang, I skimmed through my educational career rather unmolested. Now, that’s not to say there were no altercations. There were. Believe me. A kid also named Wes and I came to fisticuffs over cutting in line in 5th grade which resulted a bloody nose for myself and strangle marks around the neck for him. There were gym-time scuffles over floor hockey or flag football or even soccer (with a football players that decided to tackle me in the customs of his sport…). There was also the 9th grade incident on the bus that ended in my ambushing my sophomore seatmate with a fist to the face and some harsh curse words after he and his goonish friends picked on my the entire 45 minute bus ride home.
Every kid is picked on, whether in jest or with malice. Our modern society knows that bullying is a real offense. Fifteen to 20 years ago it was the same way. I was called a band geek or foot fairy for my choice in extra-curriculars. I got things thrown at me, physically and verbally. I was hounded often, even by those I thought might’ve been friends. I can honestly say depression was a real thing when I was in junior high. But if we all take a step back, wasn’t junior high depression-inducing even without the strained relations with peers?
It wasn’t until I was a freshman that I came to the conclusion that I was really ok with the status of my existence. Prior to this time, there was always a shard of me that asked why I couldn’t be different, more popular, more normal, more loved. High school changed this, primarily because I, and several of my other unpopular friends, decided to switch schools to a vocational high school. Coming from a small town, this was world-changing. This gave people like us (nerds, geeks, dorks, etc) an opportunity to re-make ourselves into something different. It was akin to going away to college. It was a fresh start.
Unfortunately, and despite the overwhelming of outcasts just like ourselves, we quickly learned that this new existence was much like our old one, and that we were destined to largely take on the same role we had in the past. Later in freshman year, my few close friends from my old school and I coined a term to categorize our uncategory: Low-Key Non-Conformist.
None of us ever inserted ourselves into the affairs of others unless we were approached to do so. Our footprint was minimal. Also, none of us were ever comfortable adopting some singular mentality or coalition or community during those years. We bounced around between groups. When I was in the band room, I associated with the band geeks. And I accepted this. When I was at a soccer game or practice or team event, I was a foot fairy. And I loved those times. When I was at school in class, I was considered a brainiac or know-it-all or was asked why I had to answer all the questions. I didn’t care; I enjoyed learning, and my fellow brainiacs rejoiced in that.
This mantra of being low-key and non-conforming pervaded me further as I matured, little to my realization. My senior year in high school was spent on co-op at an engineering firm, a job I still have today. How many 29 year old’s can say they’ve had the same job at the same company for 12 years? Likewise, in college, my work experience gave me an upper hand in most of my major courses, and I had ended up teaching some of my peers the principles of civil design and plan creation. All the while bouncing between various types of groups — the artists, the partiers, the nerds, the jocks, etc. No limits meant no restrictions who I associated with.
After a failed relationship, I moved back home with my mother. It was a depressing time because I felt as though the failing was a backward step. I had moved out specifically because I saw it as a path in the direction towards maturity and becoming a real adult. If anything, I realized how immature I was, and how much growing up I still needed to accomplish. It hurt my pride deep, and, in fact, I resented even the idea of needing to move home.
At this same time, friends from my past (other low-key non-conformists) had started to pop up again in my life. One of these had the audacity to invite me to church, an offer I accepted out of sheer desperation to connect again to something, anything. While I won’t take this tangent, suffice it to say it saved my life.
Around the end of 2007, I began my path down a long and tough road of intellectual, mental, and spiritual revolution. My experiences in politics and philosophy were very underdeveloped before this point in time, and therefore were the only thing in my life that could’ve been seen as explicitly mainstream. My right-leaning mentality opened a door to liberty through the 2008 presidential campaign. And here, for the first time, I experienced what my friends and I were seeking all those years ago when we decided to re-make ourselves at another school: a revolution of being.
This path was an arduous one. A lot of questioning was needed, mostly of myself, and at times I fell short of the challenges I was posed. For two whole years I immersed myself in the study of free market economics, liberal philosophy, and, eventually, anarchistic thought. The fires of these studies forged me into another type of mainstream; that which is actually counter-cultural and truly despised in most cases, as is always true when you challenge the principles of those entrenched in established ideas and institutions. I know; I was like them before this.
During this time I felt everything from revelation, sheer joy and optimism, deep sadness and depression. I resisted much of what I discovered. And what I discovered ranged from truly free societies to conspiracy theories to the logical processes of thought and learning. Like acquiring the taste of beer or coffee, I was repulsed by it at first, but soon warmed to the taste. At present, I maintain the principles I learned, but have long gotten over the more abstract theories surrounding the castles in the sky.
All this to say that my experiences over a period of two to three years were monumental in the finalization low-key non-conformism. I’ve outgrown feeling defensive when people don’t agree with me; it’s just natural. I don’t expect it. I’m anything but mainstream after all.
At times, I feel as though the universe is counter to me. (I use the term “the universe” here to mean that which is outside of my control.) That it’s working against my passions and desires to be more than what I’ve restricted myself to over the years. My concerns with this isn’t about being thought of as “different” by strangers. Hell, my own close friends and family members and co-workers think I’m “different”. Therefore I can divorce my concerns from my status as “anything but mainstream”.
No, my concerns are about strangers, friends, family, and co-workers not taking me serious. In part, this is due to me being perceived as “different”. But primarily I think it’s because they don’t see me as being legitimate. My co-workers especially have been keen to treat me sub-standard. My ideas routinely get swept under the rug, and it’s no secret that certain individuals think of me as “low man on the totem pole” simply because I’m still young, I have merely an associate’s degree, and, most importantly, because I was hired when I was 17 most people continue to have a stigma that I’m the “baby” in the office.
Likewise with my friends and family. I’ve never had many extremely close friends, usually two or three at any one time during my life. And the turnover for those friends was high, especially after high school. With both friends and family, conversation is usually superficial. Delving too far into any one topic tends to discourage further conversation, presumably to avoid stepping on toes, or being offended themselves. My father has been the eternal adviser; my mother the eternal discourager. Respecting my father, I sought to live up to his standards and advice because I thought he was wise and right. Respecting my mother, I felt it necessary to choose the safer route always. Being who I am makes them feel uncomfortable. My dad can be outspoken, and so a discussion on politics, religion, employment is usually met with a gentle interrogation as to why I’d think or feel those ways… I should rethink these things. My mom is a broken and depressed person, so anything I say to her is either taken as an insult (“I’m too stupid”), taken as an attempt to alienate her and make her feel alone (“All I ever wanted was a family”), or taken as an opportunity to make me feel guilty (“Bad things always happen to me”).
Strangers are another class. These are the types I’m actually attempting to insert myself alongside in order to reach my dreams I have for myself. Winning friends and influencing people, I figure. The problem with strangers is that when I make known through conversation that I really am anything but mainstream, it tends to make them want to distance themselves from me. Obviously this makes it difficult to penetrate new circles or groups, a problem I’ve never really had before.
Compounding this problem is the fact that most of my interactions with strangers have been restricted to social media. Facebook occupied a large portion of my life during my self-revolution. After choosing to abstain from social media in 2011 with my wife, interaction was reduced. Since joining Twitter in an effort to expose my writing more, I’m rediscovering this type of relation again.
Social media does two things extremely well — 1) because it’s a mass communal concept, it amplifies the interactions and all the things connected with them; and 2) because it travels at the speed of the internet, the amplified interactions are intense and frequent.
When you factor these things into the problem of not being taken seriously be those you wish to be respected by, it’s a no-brainer why it may feel like the universe is opposed to your endeavors. One bad move, one wrong step will impact your reputation severely.
As it’s said, if you want to be respected, demand respect and respect those you wish to be respected by. This is not always true, at least not at first. Respect is a tough thing to earn, and, like trust, demanding it is not always the best thing to do, especially when dealing with people on the internet (in case you’re unaware, sarcasm isn’t translated in written word, and 140 characters is barely enough to convey rational thoughts).
The amount of resistance I’ve felt from strangers regarding my endeavors lately has led me to question myself and whether or not I’m to actually be pursuing this. Part of that questioning morphs into thoughts about whether this is just one of those times that pro athletes or politicians or business gurus talk about having to persevere through in order to reach success and goals and victories. Part of me thinks that’s what’s the case here. Another more cynical part thinks it’s that pesky universe again, trying to hamper my plans and dreams.
Quite seriously, though, if ever there was a time I would consider to honor the idea of a real and physical persona of Satan, this is it. The idea of the primordial antagonist working against the agonists of this world in an effort to subvert the protagonist is appealing here. I’m a bystander, and this universe, those things outside of my control, are being used against me by the chief deceiver to thwart my efforts in realizing what I’m meant for in this life.
That’s what it feels like, anyway.
I can live with being outside the mainstream. I have done so for my entire life, and I’m very comfortably with that. What I can’t accept is not being respected in an objective way by my peers.
At the risk of making this personal diatribe any longer, I’ll finish with this thought: have you ever felt as though the world was stacked against you which caused you to question your goals in life? What did you do, how did you respond, and what was the result?