The Too XYZ Road Show
This weekend was a fun, rewarding, and in many ways an Un-Ty sort of weekend. Perhaps it was exciting because it was so Un-Ty like, and rewarding because it may have in some ways changed what it is to be “Ty-Like.”
I am not an advocate of making specific efforts to “get out of your comfort zone”. In fact the concept is so oversold online these days that I don’t even like to use the term “get outside your comfort zone”, but I use it for the sake of making a point.
And that point is you shouldn’t be uncomfortable for the sake of being uncomfortable. While many people think doing so is the key to personal evolution, I say it’s a mild form of martyrdom complex unless the discomfort is in service to a greater good. In my case, spending time with a friend and showing support for her on her birthday were the good things that far outweighed some of my discomforts. And in so doing, I became comfortable with more things. Hence, a legitimate “outside of your comfort zone” approach.
Here are some examples from this weekend of my being “Un-Ty” like in pursuit of something good.
Being a house guest.
I think I am a bit Too XYZ to be a house guest sometimes. During my stay at someone’s house I always feel the need to help clean, or make food, or add a deck to the back of the house. Anything that makes me a full fledged and functional part of whatever household I am in at the time. Most hosts insist I don’t worry about any of those things, and my friend was no exception. (Though she did let me squeeze the limes for lime juice she needed for something she was making.) I always feel I need to “earn” the right to be taking up space and consuming food in somebody’s home if I am going to be there for more than a few hours. Yet once I just relaxed and reminded myself I was there to celebrate a person, and not be Mr. Belvedere, I was able to feel a little better.
Being a house guest II
I will usually opt to go home late into the night from someone’s house instead of sleeping there unless 1) the weather becomes atrocious for driving (frequent around here), 2) I have had too much to drink (rare), or 3) I feel like an honorary member of the family whose home I find myself in. (Has yet to occur.)
This is not to say I have never spent the night in other people’s homes of course, because I have, and did this weekend. There is just something in my brain, no matter how nice the accommodations are that says, at least for a while, This is not your home. Your radio is not tuned to this radio station, and sleep is impossible. Ergo, I sleep poorly. I’m okay in hotels, but other people’s homes…I don’t know. It’s a subconscious thing. Even if I know them well.
I got over it this weekend, though. In fact I actually slept pretty good some of the time. Just had to remember I was there by invitation and that I was part of everything, not an invasion upon it. (Though getting up at on Friday at 6:00AM and going to bed at 6:00AM my second night probably helped me crash a bit too.)
Knowing the “Plan”
I am not a control freak. I don’t need to control everything that happens around me. But I am sometimes a “knowledge freak”. By that I mean that if I am not careful I can get caught up in having to know where I am going, at what time, and for how long. Yet this weekend there was very little of that. I decided I would go with whatever flow my friend created. This was her hometown, her birthday, her deal. And she had to go through enough hoops just to get my sorry ass there and home again because I don’t drive long distances. (That much has not changed.) So I felt she was entitled to just go, and I would follow. And that is exactly what I did. I put aside any temptation I had understand everything, and just went with it.
I just did what she did. If she took this flight of steps that seemed to descend into the ancient catacombs, I would be right behind her. (Or try to be, I almost lost her in the shuffle a few times.) I didn’t try to reason out the patterns and systems of streets and trains and tracks and so on. Just went.
That got easy after about three seconds. Just going. Abandoning a need to decipher the why and how came faster than I would have thought. Probably because everything moves so fast in situations like that. Plus I learned that if you just trust friends, they can lead you where you need to go. And you get to see and experience a lot on the way. I finally got to see some Non-Postcard New York, which I had never been to before, as well as the more real parts of Jersey City, and Hoboken.
And I mean party. No joke, it was the second biggest private party I ever attended. And that first big party was full of friends. I knew exactly one person this weekend, so in a way it was bigger after all.
As I told my friend, I am usually a small informal soiree type, or an outdoor barbecue type. I have many friends in West Virginia who have such events many times throughout the year. A few people, beer, food, talking. Thrown together in a week. There you go. This weekend, I would say this party peaked at 50 people in an average sized apartment. A lot of drink, a lot of food. Not to mention a lot of work on the part of my hostess to put it all together. (Except for the limes. I did that part.) Music, dancing. Lots of shoulder to shoulder super party “epicness” as the kids say these days.
I had a good time, but in this case I was still Too XYZ to fully engage as most of the locals were doing. I am not the most introverted person I know, but I am indisputably on the spectrum. Which meant I spent much of the evening as an observer, in a chair at the food table. (This served two obvious purposes.) Several of the people I met that night wanted to know why I didn’t move about, or dance more instead of sitting there watching.
It can be tricky to explain to people whom I don’t know why I need to do this. In fact people who have known me for years still don’t quite grasp it. But as an introvert I need to let certain experiences filter into my consciousness in a gradual fashion. There is just too much humanity in a party of that magnitude for someone like me to jump in headlong. Many people are electrified by that, which is great. For me however, exposure to it can be draining under the best of conditions.
It is for the same reason I had to step outside to be alone periodically. Not because I wasn’t enjoying myself. Not because the extroverts and seasoned party goers offended me. I just needed to step away sometimes to recalibrate. And even though my friend was going about enjoying herself as she should have been on her birthday, and I didn’t see much of her directly during the party portion of my trip, my presence was a way to honor her and thank her for being a friend of mine. Even when I had to get away for a while.
When we make it about someone else and not ourselves we can do all kinds of things we would not normally find ourselves doing, as I said before. It won’t change our stripes, as evidenced by my reluctance to dance, or my choice to stop drinking after 1:00 that morning. Those are things about me that remain. But other people make it worth it. True, it’s not like I could go home even if I decided to, since I hadn’t driven there. But that is not at all the point. The point is I chose of my own free will to attend a party that was larger than I am used to because it wasn’t about me. That made even the very Un-Ty atmosphere enjoyable for the most part.
Flying totally into the face of what I just mentioned in the previous section, I did dance a bit. I have good rhythm, and back in school I used to dance at the dances a lot. So I am no stranger to it. But there is no way in hell I was going to be able to compete with either the stamina or abandon of some of the party guests. Yes, I realize that dancing at a party is about getting out there, and not about style or form or anything. But that is just the point. Being “out there” is not my strongest suit, and dancing is one of the most “out there” things a person can do in a room full of strangers. A room full of friends would be one thing, maybe, but I didn’t know these people, so I was usually disinclined to dance.
But I did a little. It was easier to do when it was just about me dancing for a moment with a single other person who asked me to dance, as opposed to dancing all over the place as the others were. Also easier when I wanted to make sure people knew I didn’t consider myself better than them in some way. That was important. You have to sometimes do as the Romans do, as the saying goes. Nothing wrong with that, even for someone that is Too XYZ. But I did sit more than I danced, and had to decline a few times later in the night. But I felt okay about it, because I had let myself wade in the pool, as it were.
Is there anything more insufferable than someone you don’t know walking up to you and offering their world perspective or opinions on what you have been discussing? No, “hello” or “My name is Jack.” Just walking up to a group at a party and saying something like,
“Actually I find his movies to be so pretentious. He tries to be derivative of Fellini without being obvious about it, which makes it worse.”
Okay, thanks for your input. And you are?
But in actual fact, this is more about me being Too XYZ, because I have found in many cases people welcome this. It blows me away sometimes how free people are with their opinions with strangers. More than once this weekend I observed the conversations that were going on around me, but didn’t jump in with my own ideas. You see, except around my closest friends, I am built to hold my opinions until asked for them. Even then, I proceed with caution, because when I am the “new guy” as I was this weekend, I think it is my duty to pay attention and know what the conversation is, but not derail or or alter it in anyway. As a guest I feel I should be as unobtrusive on a pre-existing group of people as possible. So I rarely offer anything.
Yet several times this weekend I was asked by people I didn’t know for my opinion on something. And I gave it. I still felt a bit like I was trying on somebody else’s shoes, but I did it. And I realized that I need to be willing to do that, and in fact probably should have done more of it this weekend. So caught up in experiencing and observing and trying to not be obtrusive was I that I may have painted myself at times into a corner of nothingness to those around me.
My older friends know that I am seldom unaware or uninvolved in what is happening around me, even if I seem totally detached. They know that my ear is to the ground. But I should have remembered that not everyone is going to realize that at first, and that I run the risk of appearing bored, unconcerned or “holier-than thou” by not offering my thoughts on some things. At least minor ones. So I all too late learned that lesson from this weekend. But I did learn it. Or I should say, I was reminded of it, because I have had to learn this lesson more than once. Time for it to stick, I think. But that may be a Too XYZ thing as well. Time will reveal the answer to that one.
In all of these ways, and more, my being Too XYZ showed up this weekend. Sometimes it remained firmly in place, and I wasn’t able to change something about myself, regardless. (Stepping outside during the party.) Sometimes I was surprised at how easy it was for me to set aside my more natural tendencies. (Not needing to understand everything that was about to happen.) Most of the time it was an equal blend. Knowing that I am not by default built a certain way, but being willing, for the sake of the people involved, to put in an effort to see and experience things differently than I am used to.
That in the end is the key to it all, isn’t it? To know what your boundaries are, and accept what you cannot change about yourself, but at the same time showing a willingness to adapt, change and expand those aspects of you that are not embedded into your very DNA. Not “just because”. Not for the sake of change. Not to jump out of your comfort zone because that is what the gurus tell you to do. But in pursuit of getting more out of life in a specific setting. In pursuit of a deeper, richer experience. In pursuit of a greater understanding of not just other people and the world around you, but of yourself. Nobody should be Too XYZ for that, and thanks to my friend, her friends, and a weekend in New Jersey I was reminded of that important truth. And it will stick with me.
And I tried falafel for the first time while I was there. It was good.
Do you go outside of your norms just for the sake of it, or with a purpose in mind? What sort of conditions make it worth it to step outside of your comfort zone? What is a recent example of you doing so for a greater good? How were you affected?