I've always been a little weird.
When I was a kid, I thought one of my stuffed toys was real. Not ALL of them of course, that would be silly and childish. Just Wabbit. When Wabbit's plastic googly eyes came off due to too many fervent hugs, I was inconsolable because, of course, he had become blind. I sensed his fear, the world having suddenly gone utterly dark without warning. I could almost FEEL what I thought he must be feeling and it was terrifying. Finally my Grammy took scraps of cloth and sewed them where his eyes would have been, telling me they were magic and would bring back his sight. Was blind, but now I see...
Reading Jenn Romolini's new book, Weird in a World That's Not, was like going to a class reunion for the former inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys. Every time she described being drenched with sweat while pretending (unsuccessfully) to be poised and professional, I could feel the prickly heat of embarrassment creeping up my own neck empathetically. Ah, good times! Like Jenn's description of an early job interview when she was kindly offered a cup of water:
Nowadays, everyone likes to think they're a little weird. But let's be honest, very few of us have blurted out "I love you" to our veterinarians when told our cats had not survived a procedure. (For the record, I have indeed done that.) It's just that my feelings are so strong and they are RIGHT THERE just under the thinnest veneer, and sometimes that veneer rubs off and... Well, it was nice to know someone out there was almost as weird as I am.
A Career Guide for the Rest of Us
"Weird in a World That's Not" is subtitled "A Career Guide for Misfits, F*ckups, and Failures." It is certainly a career guide, but it's also a kind of group therapy for introverts. Reading a description of small talk as "a balloon of empty, air-filling words passed back and forth until an interruption saves you" was like hearing my autobiography read out loud to me. The book has a kindness to the wry humor, and the author clearly believes that misfits are deserving of dignity.
Her career advice is usually directed at women in the early stages of their career, and much of it is particularly relevant for people who are interested in creative fields like writing and design. However, some of her tips would help just about anyone, like the "choose your own adventure" chapter on "how and when to quit your job" or the section on "how to give critical feedback and not sound like a creep."
If you began your career in the Pleistocene Epoch like I did, you will find some of her pop culture references bewildering. The f-bombs made me squirm uncomfortably for the same reason. Every so often her advice comes across as trite, like "Do your best. Seek out new opportunities. Don't be afraid to take risks." (We did that when we accepted a cup of water at the interview, remember how that turned out?)
But just when my eyes start to roll with gusto, she snaps out of it and shares a true gem, like "Ground yourself so you don't crave constant validation...Call your grandma. Do something kind. Think about someone else for a while. That will help."
This book helped me see how some of my most challenging attributes—my emotional nature, my "thin skin" that led to many moments of crying in workplace bathrooms—can also be my strengths. For example, Jenn describes herself as a "great boss," saying "my oddness, my hypersensitivity, my ambition, the fact that I've lived a full [f'ed up] life—all of this has made me the kind of boss I always wanted."
If you feel like a painfully awkward teenager trapped in an adult's body, if the "normal" people can't understand why you "let things get to you so much," if you are convinced you are a hopeless introvert who will never find a job where you can be yourself, pick up this book. You'll know, at the very least, you're in good company.
Find Weird In a World That's Not on the publisher's site, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or in your local library (librarians rock!). Check Jenn out on Twitter. And as always, please share this blog post with your network, because it turns out there are quite a few weird folks like us out there!