I was on the rowing team my freshman year of college. During a one-on-one meeting, my crew coach asked me what I was going to major in. I stared at her, point blank, and without hesitating said, “Beer and Men.” This boast wasn’t far from the truth, and while my social life escalated, sadly, my academic pursuits dwindled. I dropped out of college after my sophomore year and spent about three years getting my butt kicked in the “real world,” via Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Milwaukee.
My dad, always trying to give me sound parental advice which I usually swept under the rug of my overbearing immaturity, told me, “Katie, figure out what you’re good at. Figure out a way to make money doing it. That is the key.”
I juggled his words around in my head for years. What was I good at? I never excelled at sports (even in high school it appeared I wanted to focus my studies on beer and men). I was a lousy student. I excelled more at the art of skipping class, rather than actually attending it. I never had a teacher pull me aside and say, “Hey, you’re really good at _________.” I was the kid who had teachers pull me aside to tell me they thought I was cheating, to give me in-school suspensions, to give me basketball suspensions because I was caught at a party, or to switch me into remedial courses because I wasn’t making the grades.
I kept thinking, what if I just excel at sucking at everything? What do I do with that?
Then, I decided to do a little internal study. I started to think abut the comments I heard most often from people, that were directed at me. Some people hear, “You’re so smart.” Some people hear, “You’re so artistic,” or, “You’re such a good athlete,” or, “You’re such a great people-person.” The thing that I’ve consistently heard throughout my life is, “Wow, you are really, really weird.”
I started to think about this idea of being weird. In high school, I took it as an insult. It’s painfully awkward to be different. It is so much easier to be in a click, to be in a group, to fall in a label. Being weird is like being a mutant.
In college, I heard these comments on a daily basis. “You’re so weird. You’re so strange. Are you high all the time?” So what if I wanted to tie sweatpants around my head instead of a scarf in the winter? I was resourceful. So what if I’d rather sit in a coffee shop and watch people out the window and write down the dialogue I imagined they were saying instead of doing my homework? I was inventive. So what if I preferred dancing with inanimate objects over people? I was non-discriminatory. So what if I enjoyed wearing my Micheal Jordan face mask to class and quoting Dennis Rodman’s bio, Walk on the Wild Side like it was my bible? I was a Bull’s fan.
I started to realize that what people saw as weird, and strange, was actually a compliment. I was creative. My brain registered things in a different way. I began writing down all of my thoughts. I started to piece them into stories. Turns out, my dad was right. And, to his relief, I went back to college to pursue a degree in writing.
School is strange because logic and creativity are two very different types of intelligence. In school, we focus so much on logic that often creative kids fall through the cracks. Creative people don’t want to think inside the box. We don’t want to memorize other people’s ideas, we want to form our own. We don’t want to learn what WAS. We want to imagine WHAT COULD BE. We don’t want to be TOLD, we want to QUESTION. We don’t want ANSWERS. We prefer to WONDER. This frame of mind doesn’t work well in modern education. Logic is great for some brains, but stifling for others.
You want to know who some of the smartest kids in school are? Check out where the rejects hang out. The pottery rooms, the art rooms, the music rooms. They skulk away in corners and if they do actually show up for class, they’re usually brooding in the back. Sometimes they’re the obnoxious ones, the disciplinary cases, or the class clowns always acting out or giving hell to the teachers. And it’s not because they’re misfits. It’s not because they’re stupid. They’re bored out of their MINDS and their survival mechanism is to either quietly retreat or to boldly stick it to the man.
For any of you struggling to figure out what you’re good at, think back to what people most often say about you. What comments keep resurfacing? Also, I’ve learned that many times our strengths don’t show up until we are tested. Our strengths are what pull us out, they’re the roots of what we can excel at.
What pulls you out when you feel like you’re falling through the cracks? There lies your strength. Own it. Embrace it. And if anyone ever calls you weird, take it as a compliment. It’s better than being normal any day.