Embracing What Makes Us Different
Although it is still technically “summer time,” a few leaves have already begun to dry and fall from the trees in the New York City parks, the daytime sun has given way to a crisp nighttime temperature of 60-something degrees, and I have resumed the almost daily ritual of packing a light sweater in my bag “just in case.” As such, many of you have probably witnessed the re-emergence of that notorious TV commercial, with those kids -- dread-filled, feet dragging, frowns pronounced – trailing the giddy parent who skips through the school-supply aisle to the tune, “It’s the most wonderful time…of the year!”
All joking aside, for everyone, the start of the school year elicits something different. Certainly, there are those kids (and adults) who unequivocally enjoy the opportunity to connect socially and the academic stimulation of being in school. For others, this time of year can highlight feelings of “otherness” or social awkwardness, as well as struggles to complete schoolwork well, on time, or at all. The latter can result from difficulties in paying attention, diagnosable learning disorders, anxiety, poor self-esteem, or some combination of the above. In addition, challenges with schoolwork can serve to exacerbate all of these issues, resulting in a vicious cycle of distress and poorer performance.
When we have apprehension about or feel disconnected from some aspect of our daily lives, whether academically, at work, or within our social spheres, it can lead to sadness, self-doubt, a sense of futility, and a feeling that we don’t belong somehow. All of these things can get in the way of doing as well as we can – whatever that may mean for us. They can also prevent us from noticing what’s good about our lives, and about ourselves - as we are in the moment – even if there are things that we are still “working on” or would otherwise like to change.
Our differences are obviously what make each of us unique. And they allow us the privilege of learning and growing from people who have backgrounds, points of view, skills, and challenges unlike our own. In the same vein, we give ourselves and others a most remarkable gift when we can truly be ourselves, because in doing so, we let go of the pressure to “fit in via blending in,” and by our example, we give others permission to embrace their own uniqueness.
Some of the most personally influential people in my “inner circle” have gone through periods when they have felt alone and misunderstood, or been marginalized because of what makes them different. Being made aware of our “otherness” can lead us to forget that ultimately, it is we who are the arbiters of our worth, and that it need not be contingent upon being “just like everyone else.” Nor does our having value require unanimous approval – something which exists only in the realm of fantasy, anyway.
I’ve found it interesting that the quality we most struggle with now may be the one we ultimately embrace. As I write this article I am thinking of one friend in particular. “Adam” is unusually tall, yet not at all athletic (by his own admission), frequently cantankerous, as well as notably visually impaired. These sorts of qualities did not exactly enhance his chances of being nominated high school homecoming king; yet, his unusual perspective (visual and otherwise) has contributed to his development as a truly brilliant artist, as well as a gifted writer and award-winning storyteller. If Adam had forced himself to be like everyone else, he would have deprived himself and the world of his gifts – ones no one else could deliver in quite the same way. Most of us know several “Adams,” and if we allow ourselves, we can find and nurture the “Adam within” – the sensitive, or thoughtful, creative, quirky, math-loving or -hating, shy, bold, funny, incisive, or whatever it is that forms our unique personality fingerprint.
Some of my favorite tools for fostering self-acceptance, improving focus, and decreasing stress along the way include imagery, hypnosis and self-hypnosis, yoga or meditation to help you remain in the moment, getting regular exercise, and engaging in creative or other pleasurable activities that nourish the soul. Find and use the ones that work best for you.
My wish for us all as this next season and school year approach are good health, much happiness, and appreciation for our gifts, and challenges, and quirks, whatever they are.
Traci Stein is the author of two popular Guided imagery titles designed to build and maintain self-esteem.