Sunday, 20 February 2011

How do you eat yours?

It may be an obvious observation but today, as I was publicly heralded in McDonalds for dunking my chicken nuggets and chips into a fresh and icy vanilla milkshake, the lady in question told me “I love it when I see someone doing something a bit unusual. Go for it! I love your quirk!” So, I was being rewarded for being a little odd. A little different. Outside the norm. Why? Because everyone wants to be seen as interesting. Because frankly, normal is boring. Average is mundane. Nobody wants to be ‘beige’. Most people would like to be remembered as unique and distinctive. 

We spend our childhood being blissfully unaware of social norms and are completely at one with our quirks and oddities. But then we hit adolescence and a whirlwind of social acceptance fears take over – we can’t bear to wear the wrong thing, say the wrong thing or have the wrong friends. And looking back now, most of the things we ended up saying, wearing and doing, and possibly even the people we were friends with, were terrible choices. We tried so hard to fit in, we forgot who we were. 

Then what happens as we launch into the big bad adult world? Well, many of us hit the rat race and continue in the quest for ‘fitting in’; being part of the ‘right’ groups to get to the ‘right’ places at the ‘right’ time. But are we being true to ourselves? And do we really like the person we turn into?

A fitting article summarises nicely the different behavioural patterns of groups. And one that’s pertinent here is the social conformity that breeds within any group. Totally against our control or better judgement, we start to like the same things as those around us; behave in similar ways, feel passionate about similar things and ideally, strive for the same goals. Which all makes for a pretty strong business team if that’s what you’re after.

But what if you just want to be you? What if you crave to sing out loud as you walk down the street? Or you can’t help but nod along to the music blaring through your headphones – even when you’re on a crowded tube? What if you want to go out to the shops on a Saturday morning in your pajamas? Or go to the local pub in your most glammed up outfit, highest heels included? Or what if, like me, you just can’t help dipping your chips into your milkshake when you treat yourself to McDonalds?

Difference makes the world interesting. Difference makes the world go round. If you desire to be different, then do it. Live a little. Let your hair down and see how it feels. People love people that provide interest; whether you’re amusing, entertaining, slightly embarrassing or totally brilliant, people will remember you. And if you bring a smile to someone’s face then all the better. But most importantly, you’ll have a smile on your face because you won’t feel that dreadful pressure and constraint of a ‘social norm’. We’re privileged enough to live in a free society.
So go and be free!

If you're struggling, imagine you’re in one of those films (like Groundhog Day) and you’ve got the opportunity to live a whole day exactly as you want and no one will remember or judge you. Because you’ll start all over again tomorrow. Today will be forgotten and no embarrassments will remain in people’s memories. 

Now, with THAT amount of freedom, what would you do? Next time you’re out walking the city streets or country suburbs, be inspired and let yourself go. You never know, you might even discover a quirk that you can love and live with and be heralded for doing it!