I am not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, I am a cup of tea in a coffee-drinking world. And that’s okay.
The key to appreciating my oddi-tea is the willingness to play with me. This is ironic in that I did not learn how to play until I was well into adulthood. I was always a too serious, too responsible kid. I never intentionally went out to have fun. If I had fun, it was a pleasant byproduct of doing whatever was required or routine.
It was not until after my husband separated from me that I started to intentionally play. I would go to the beach and walk. I would go to amusement parks. I would craft Christmas presents for my employees. I would think up interesting and quirky themes for classes and meetings. I sang boldly (and incredibly unharmoniously) where no person had sung before. I played Toto in a skit for work comparing the three pillars of my agency’s business goals with the Wizard Of Oz. I had a Tinker Bell inspired Bippity-Boppity-Boo makeover. I have paid rather large quantities of cash to touch sloths, giraffes, rhinos, flamingos, dolphins, sting rays, elephants, skunks, tigers, and lions. I have acquired more stuffed animals, all appropriately named, than most children will see in a lifetime. At Christmas one year, I asked my brother to dig me up a large bucket of big rocks from his backyard as his present to me. Let me also say…I engaged in all of these activities without benefit of alcohol. I think that is pretty impressive, but not everyone aspires to be a four-year-old child in an elderly woman’s body.
This aspect of my personality is a bit of a disconnect for people do not know me well or who only knew me from my work persona. I am very introverted and can present myself as stodgy, timid, and ordinary. When I break open the shell, it can be a bit jarring to people around me. It is like the first time you see your grade schoolteacher in the supermarket or the first time you see your dad cry. It is just so unexpected; it seems a little suspicious.
Throughout my working career, I do not think anyone would have thought of me as an “outside the box thinker.” Most people would say that I have always been the poster child for conventionality. I would go to incredible lengths to make whatever round peg I encountered fit into the carved-in-cement square hole that existed because it always had. I remember one time when I was asked to evaluate a new process on the job. The man who oversaw implementing this new process (I’m looking at you, Geoff!) met with me to explain the goals and challenges of the new program. One of the points he made was that the computer I had was not powerful enough to do all the steps of the process. I thought for a moment and produced a radical work around that likely would NOT work around. He looked at me for a moment in disbelief and then suggested quietly, “or we could just get you a new computer.” The idea that there might be a solution beyond the status quo was so foreign to me, I never considered the easiest answer. In those days, I found it better to stick with what I knew and make it “kinda sorta” work than to build a better mousetrap.
I am risk averse and underconfident. When the stakes of looking stupid or going off-script was the potential loss of my livelihood, I was the queen of coloring inside the lines. I did not even know that I wanted to color outside the lines. Even if I had wanted to, I do not think I would have had the faintest idea of how to begin. I was lucky enough to share friendship with several people who inspired me. I began to want to think bigger, and experiment more creatively than my normal persona allowed. It was scary to try new perspectives and activities in the tight-lipped, squinting bureaucratic world in which I worked. The seed was planted in my brain, though.
Once I retired and started recrafting my life to be more in line with my genuine self, I did start practicing with innovative ideas and new activities. I started the blog. I published two books. I produced a series of Alpha dinners for people exploring the Christian faith. I converted a curriculum designed for in-person presentation to a virtual environment. When my living did not depend on me getting everything right, it was amazing how liberating it was to “play” with new ideas.
The problem happens when I invite others to come out and play with my new ideas. Once people get to know me, I think some are tolerant and forgiving of my quirkiness. They may enjoy it. Some seem to react less positively. They view my perspective of the world as suspicious, threatening, and silly. I am okay with the “silly” part, but I put my back up over the “suspicious” and “threatening.” People can see who I am and what I propose as so revolutionary, it can feel a little threatening. I have sometimes been baffled and hurt when others try to tear down my ideas and suggestions. I cannot understand the reaction. I’ve always understood that not everyone will want to play in the sandbox with me. That is fine. What I do not understand is why people feel they must pour water in my sandbox in order to justify their desire not to play in the same way I am playing. I am okay with others playing in their own way in their own sandboxes. Often, I will join them for a time just to be sociable. It dismays me when they do not reciprocate.
I confess that, since I do not see myself as revolutionary at all, I sometimes do not manage the transition from “mild-mannered ordinary person” to “outside the box thinker” in a very graceful way.
I am learning how to set the stage, anticipate reactions, and manage the responses more effectively. I am trying to be better about acknowledging my quirks upfront and empathizing about how others will likely react. In the face of pushback, I am learning to pause and live in the discomfort of disagreement rather than to rush to convince, negotiate, or manipulate others into accepting my perspective. The biggest lesson in tea-drinking I am learning is that it is healthy to live in my own way and not allow the insecure reactions from others to make me insecure. Just because someone else thinks I am wrong in pursuing a certain course of action does not automatically mean that I am wrong in pursuing that course of action. Their reaction can be speaking much louder about how they feel about themselves than about the merits of my plans. Or maybe they just don’t like tea. That’s okay. Coffee is a perfectly acceptable beverage of choice.
Have you had the experience of feeling like you must defend yourself because your ideas are just a little off the beaten path? How do you deal with that situation? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you may email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a total-tea wonderful day!