What others find strange is actually your uniqueness. Don’t ever give that up — not for anybody.
There are times when I’m reminded of my weirdness. Last night I went out for dinner with a new client. The booking was for 6:30 pm and I arrived at 6:20 to allow a buffer for possible obstacles like rain and traffic.
In these situations, you’re supposed to put on a good show. You act the way the client wants, find commonalities and present yourself as knowledgeable, helpful and someone worth doing business with.
Over the next two hours, my own weirdness would become obvious.
Client: “So what do you do outside of work, mate?”
Me: “I’m a writer.”
Client: “What do you write about?”
Me: “Well, I write about being involved with several failed businesses, battling mental illness, being fired, inspiring stories and anything else that might be helpful.
If someone asks me a direct question, I’m going to be honest, even if it makes me look weak, or worse, weird. This answer was probably the worst response you could give a new client who doesn’t know you.
Business school would tell you to hide much of your personal life and focus on cliche hobbies like golf or what places you’ve visited or where you’ve worked. These are the safe conversation topics.
But I don’t care about sport or stories of working at companies in faraway places. That is not me.
The waiter came past and offered up the wine list to peruse. I took one look and decided to order sparkling water.
Client: “You don’t drink?”
Me: “Sometimes. I reduced my alcohol consumption after a near-miss with cancer in 2015 and now my goal is to grow old with my partner.
My colleagues and the client kept chatting about sport. My mind wondered as the restaurant we were eating in used to be a nightclub that I attended as an eighteen-year-old. The place where we were sitting was the same spot the DJ used to stand and spin records. That used to be my dream and being back there reminded me of the person I used to be. This was a treat.
The conversation continued about different types of sport — first, it was rugby, then soccer and then Aussie Rules. It was all the same to me, but I let them continue without ruining their fun.
It was time to order a main course at the steakhouse we were eating at. I’m a vegetarian so this was going to be interesting.
Me: “I’ll have the gnocchi,” I said to the waiter.
Client: “Are you vegetarian?”
Me: “Nah, I just decided to give up meat to see if it would have an impact on my energy levels. The experiment helped me so I quit meat five years ago.”
The meals came out and the waiter messed up my order. “We only serve that dish as an entree,” she said. I ordered another entree of the same dish as there were no other non-meat options. I was fine, although the faces looking at me said it all. It was weird to them.
As the conversation continued, I pulled out my phone to share a picture from Vietnam. The picture and my phone’s home screen were all black and white.
Client: “Is your phone broken or something?”
Me: “Nah, it’s just in black and white mode to stop me looking at it every few minutes. It’s an addiction I need to work on.”
The back of my phone then became visible. On the back was a sticker that helps to reduce radiation. It had been there for so long that I forgot it was even there.
Client: “What’s that on the back of your phone?”
Me: “It’s a sticker my doctor asked me to put on my phone. He practices western and alternative medicine and suggested I try it, so I did.”
Every few minutes, my weirdness was on display, although all the questions and my answers were normal to me. It’s not easy for everyone to understand and I don’t expect anyone to try all of these random experiments.
The dinner had been going for about two hours by this point and it was time for the dessert menu.
Me: “I’ll have a Chamomile Tea, thanks.”
Client: “You’re not having dessert or a coffee?”
Me: “Nah, I’m full and have eaten a little too much sugar this week. Coffee only works for me on writing days otherwise, it keeps me from sleeping.”
The desserts came out and I enjoyed my tea a lot. My colleague sitting opposite me had ordered a vanilla ice cream with a Mars Bar in the middle and was regretting it.
Every bite of his dessert was torture. Being left out, perhaps, was a greater form of punishment, so he ate the whole thing. The wine glass in his hand was also taking its toll. He had been sick for the last two weeks and by the look on his face, the alcohol was not helping.
The time quickly hit 10 pm, which is past my normal bedtime. I sent a message to my girlfriend to come and get me and suggested we wrap things up.
Client: “Been a long week has it?”
Me: “Nah, it’s just that Saturdays is when I write, so I need to get home and get some rest to be up in time.”
Leaving early was perhaps a risk but there was no way I could avoid the tiredness that took over my face and my dreams of being a writer.
I headed home and reflected on the night and how I may have come across as weird.
Being yourself is tough. Each of us has our own quirks and allowing them to remain is difficult when we’re put in situations that require us to change who we are in order to fit in.
The temptation to have that drink, or break your diet/routine, or go to bed at a different time, or eat an animal, or conform to typical ways of using technology to avoid looking like the odd one out, can be hard to avoid.
It’s easier not to be yourself and pretend to be someone else.
Being unique can destroy relationships and make you unrelatable. What I learned at dinner last night is that it can also cause people to respect you.
Being unique in a world that wants you to be common and fit in takes courage. And you’ll never forget the feeling of using courage instead of letting fear control your actions.
We’re all weird in our own way and that’s what makes each of us unique. Always be yourself and never give that up even if it’s your job to impress a client.
People will be more impressed by your uniqueness than your ability to be something you’re not.