Ordinary, Extraordinary People

canstockphoto12816975She was optimistic, energetic, earnest and animated. Decision time. Do I say something funny, but sarcastic and possibly mean? Later, as I listened to her art presentation to a class of engaged elementary kids, something in me shifted slightly. My envy and inferiority and smugness dissipated and in its place, distilled and unfamiliar, was admiration. She was extraordinary and I had something to learn.

It is a hard won battle with myself, to see outwardly optimistic people without the lens of cynicism. Something sadistic in me wants to cut them down to size, wants to make them see reality, wants to make them realize that life is hard and not particularly sunny and why the hell are they always freaking smiling? I want them to be real, failing to remember that their real and my real are two entirely different animals.

Why this necessity to force someone to view the world as I do? Am I so uncomfortable with myself that I irrationally need to create a mini-me, in order to feel like I belong? Are outwardly happy people such an anathema to me that I must right the situation?

I ask this question more frequently of myself than I ever did before.Β  Since having a child, I regularly cross paths with other people who raise, teach or care for children. These are often soft-spoken, patient, gentle people who get down on the floor and play. They smile a lot. They shrug off temper tantrums and seem interested when a child tells their never-ending story in gasping breaths.

I’ll be the first to admit that I often feel uncomfortable around children. I was the person who never wanted to hold other people’s babies because the child would sense imminent danger and in a wail, shriek out “Baby-dropper, baby dropper!” You would have heard it, if you spoke baby. Now, in case you wondered, I managed to get my baby upright and independently walking without actually dropping her on her head. Although after one 6 hour crying jag (hers and eventually mine), I was sorely tempted.

The down side to being assertive and intense and introverted is that my people skills border on misanthropic. I’m uncomfortable with how uncomfortable I am. I’ve read that one of the guidelines to success (and I assume that purveyors of these guidelines mean happiness) is to surround yourself with the people who have qualities you aspire to possessing as well.

Here’s the beautiful thing about kids and people who work well with kids. They don’t care if you’re a misanthropic, awkward adult. They are so damned happy you are there and involved, that they laugh along with your wry commentary. They seem delighted to see you. Every damned time. When I visit a classroom, I’m popular. Not through my dour personality, but because I’m there. I have days when it nearly brings me to tears. How would life be, if every time you walked into a room, you were flocked to and welcomed? It’s a marvelous, heady feeling.

Connecting with optimistic people has not been deliberate on my part, but my dark subconscious mind must understand how badly I need to be engulfed by light. I am surrounded by people who lift me up and it astonishes meΒ  – and I suspect, saves me from disappearing into the shadows.

50 Comments on “Ordinary, Extraordinary People

  1. I love this – it’s so hard not to be judgemental, and especially of ourselves! I’m sure your personality is not as dour as you think. πŸ˜€

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    • Thanks! I think my personality has improved mightily since having my daughter, but there have been times when I slip back into some rather dark thought patterns. This week of spending so much time with kids reminded me of how simple and transforming openness can be.

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      • I think you are being too hard on yourself. Though I’m sure there would be a few who would look down their noses at you (because there always are!), I think you would probably be surprised by how many might actually relate on some level. I know I can relate.
        The smile I am always wearing often conceals a darker emotion like stress or insecurity or my inherent awkwardness. I often wonder what people would think of me if they knew what was really going on in my head!
        And I don’t think anyone should pass judgment because you are showing up for your daughter. πŸ™‚

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        • I laughed at this because my expression is often a scowl, but it’s concealing nothing but me concentrating and paying attention. I once had a college professor stop a class and ask me what was wrong. I was completely baffled – I was just very focused. A good reminder about not telling books by their covers!

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  2. I so relate to this! I am seriously uncomfortable around other people’s children despite having three of my own. Kudos to you for being willing to volunteer πŸ™‚

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  3. I can so relate. One of my closest friends is a rampant optimist – she thinks so positively that she just cannot conceive that something cannot be done. She was helping me with a remodel project last weekend and I could see that I was rubbing off on her and not her on me, which is too bad, the world could use more of her –

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    • I can quickly bring people to the dark side if I’m in that sort of mood. On the other hand, I often suss out when somebody needs to talk and we can quickly go from “brave faces” to genuine conversation. On a few occasions, I’ve heard myself crabbing on and how unpleasant it is – enough to convince me to stop. It’s hard to believe that there are people who are genuinely aware of the world, yet they choose to be unfailingly optimistic.

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  4. Great honest post! I catch myself doing that too, trying to bring happy people down. Though, like you, I have visibly changed my ways since I had my son. I have made myself be one of those people who gets down on the floor and plays and this has improved my general outlook and my character, somehow. Still feel awkward around other people’s kids though!

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    • I’ve done loads of silly stuff with my daughter, so that has helped me lighten up a bit. I still get a yen to knock a smile off a happy person’s face, so I know I’m not in the clear on personality improvement!

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  5. I’m this weird mix of chronic optimist, petulant realist and sometime-depressive. It’s colourful to say the least. Luckily, my optimism mostly wins out, but it’s tempered to a safe level by my realism.

    Also, aren’t people amazing? It awesome the light they can give you if you just reach out and ask for it.

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    • I’m a similar mix depending on the time of day. What is so amazing is that I don’t even feel as if I deliberately ask for having such great people in my life, but if I open my eyes and pay attention, they are there.

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      • Exactly! For me it’s like I’ve spent such a huge portion of my life being an oblivious, selfish twit, yet all of these awesome people seem to like me and want good things for me. It’s like they see something in me that I don’t see. When I can see that about myself, I think it might change everything.

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        • I think that’s very true for me as well. I wouldn’t describe it so much as being a selfish twit as being fearful and insecure. When a person is so busy keeping armor around themselves, not only does it protect them, but it blocks the view to the outside world.

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  6. Great post, Michelle. I’d bet you aren’t as dour as you seem to think you appear to others, but it’s hard to be outgoing if you’re shy. You really have to work extra hard to be that way.

    In my younger days, I forced myself to be a sunshiney kind of girl. If I got a hold of that sunny-self, I would slap myself silly.

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  7. I read this and your linked post on the Women in your Tribe and mentally went “This…so much!!”

    I, too, deeply admire people like what you describe: unapologetic and boldly living life. They don’t know that I feel that way of course, and if I’m not careful, my sense of inferiority may leak out and drive them away…

    I’m introverted and intense and still in the stage where if I screw up my courage to be assertive, I overdo it and overreact.

    I don’t meet these people in schools as I’m single and childless but I meet some of them in a martial arts class I go to semi-regularly once a week.

    They don’t seem to mind a weird awkward woman-child like me and sometimes I just can’t believe they’re actually happy to see me.

    You definitely are living boldly, being open and honest despite vulnerability. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

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    • It is definitely a challenge to find that balance without coming off as mildly disturbed. I’ve cultivated a sense of humor about my inadequacies, which helps immensely. I so often have awkward moments when I think nice, why don’t you just come out and say “Hi, I’m an idiot. Will you be my friend?” It’s just part of our charm!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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  8. Noo, WordPress and mobile browser ate my comment!

    Long personal anecdotal story cut short…

    I can So relate! I’m introverted and intense and when I have the courage to be assertive, I often overreact due to being too sensitive to “things I know I can relatively safely assert”.

    Yet these people in a martial art class I go to casually just welcome me and are happy to see me despite how awkward and uncomfortable in my own skin I am. πŸ™‚

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      • Hehe, my mobile connection decided to spaz out and throw me a wordpress error page lol!

        I don’t know how to react but yes, I don’t blog, but I will be very happy to get to know you in cyberspace via your blog πŸ˜€

        *hopes the mobile connection works fine this time*

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        • I’m trying to be funny – how was that for awkward? Stay tuned, I’m bound to embarrass myself on a regular basis. Thanks for fighting the mobile world to comment – I appreciate it!

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  9. You posting on your blog is like you entering the classroom–we are always glad you are here. {{{hugs}}} Kozo

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  10. I’ve never thought of myself as un-optimistic, but I admit to being a little confused by constant optimists too. I’m just glad there are some of them around.

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    • I am, too. Although they can be irritating on occasion…I want to say, take a breather, but that is mostly because it would exhaust me to be that constantly positive!

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  11. That’s a great post and I can understand your frustration with over-the-top optimism. I don’t get it. I’m a hard wired realist though I’ve been called worse. Your conclusion makes sense.

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  12. Gosh, do I relate! I am seen in all my social media pages as very upbeat, optimistic, always posting things to see the positivity all around us, but on the inside, I am fearful, depressed, so suspecting of my bad parenting choices, and mistrusting of those who appear so outwardly optimistic, although I try to surround myself with their messages! Thanks for putting it all down so beautifully!

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    • Sometimes faking it helps – as long as you have people with whom you can be real. I think people get themselves in trouble when they’re seen as so “happy” that they become isolated with whatever unhappiness they might be experiencing. I feel fortunate to have people who get me, so I can be myself and not feel like a walking downer – a feeling which hits me when I’m around people who are high on life. Or just high. It’s hard to tell sometimes. Hang in there! Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  13. Great post Michelle. Although I think you’re far too harsh on your “very self-aware self” if that makes sense…but then I am an incurable extrovert optimist (constantly have to tie stones to my feet to keep myself at least a bit closer to the ground). I think a big part of the richness of our human interactions lies in the fact that we are not all molded the same and therefore see things from different angles. If we engage in honest conversations we may finally see the “whole”…?

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    • I think what you say is true. And we are not all one thing or another at any given time. I am often a harsh judge of myself, but I usually find my way back to a gentler perspective – writing does that for me and so does having such great follow up conversations!

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  14. It takes honesty and introspection to admit that one is annoyed or skeptical of perennial optimists. I knew two sisters like that when I was in high school – din’t get it at all. But that is just the way they were then. I’m trying to adopt a more consistently positive attitude; it is getting easier, feels better. I’m not blind to the world’s problems, but I choose to respond in a way that is better for me, sometimes it helps others too.

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    • I think that’s a nicer way of landing, but sometimes the journey is a bit longer for some of us. I have my moments of clarity amidst my normal reaction of irritation – as usual, it’s all about the mindfulness!

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  15. Hey Michelle, great post — Honest and relate-able. Sometimes I get critical of myself in my work but what you end with rings true… sometimes it’s just a matter or showing up and being there. And it can certainly be overwhelming and feel undeserving the response from that in working with youth and people who work with youth.

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    • It has been eye-opening for me and when I think about how that welcome openness makes me feel, I am inclined to try to be that for others. I may not be particularly adept at it, since it doesn’t come naturally, but those are the kinds of skills that get better with practice! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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