I'm lucky to have been born a redhead with an unmanageable mop of curls.
Because of the red hair, I'm used to standing out, being different.
Because of the frizz, I'm used to life not being polished. Have to be resourceful and work for what I want in life (defined curls).
Over the past few years, I've started to develop of a life motto of sorts:
If you don't want to be like other people, then don't do what they do.
America is in atrocious amounts of debt, overweight and unhappy.
And there is one simple secret to not being like the rest of America: Don't act like the rest of America.
If you don't want to be in tons of debt like your fellow Americans, then don't spend like them.
If you don't want to be fat like your fellow Americans, then don't eat like them.
If you don't want to be unhappy like your fellow Americans, then don't treat your life like they do.
It's simple really. But so hard. You really have to tread your own path, and that can be a very lonely path to follow.
I had a friend once senior of high school, who, in between complaining about how poor she was and how unjust life was for her (even though she was middle class and not, in fact, digging through dumpsters for scraps of food), decided to buy a $50 skirt, calling it an "investment piece". We were in high school. It was not a pencil skirt or any other type of skirt that could easily been considered an adjustment. Again, we were in high school, so there was really no need for "investment skirts".
Even if she had needed an "investment piece", say for her career, she could just as easily gone to a consignment shop and gotten a much nicer one for $50. But "Ew", wearing other people's clothing was gross to her.
Much of America has student loan debt. It might be tough to be the one who delays or forgoes college, or who lives at home, or who starts off at a community college. Or even goes to a public school over an out-of-state or private school.
But the fiscal responsibility will catch up in the end.
Unless, of course, you study finance at Harvard or management consulting at Yale.
I've found, over the years, that I am very affected by what I eat. Food has a direct causation correlation to my emotions. Dairy causes anxiety, complex carbs help me feel grounded, drinking depresses me.
And so, sometimes, I will go to parties and not drink. Sometimes I'll go on ski trips with friends and bring my own vegan veggie sandwiches while my ski buddies munch on their fried cheese curds and chicken tenders. Sometimes I'll go to potlucks and be the only one who brings a vegetable dish to pass. Because it's the only thing I know for sure I can eat without my body beating my mind up for it after.
And I get berated for it.
"Why aren't you drinking? C'mon have a drink!"
"Are you a vegetarian? How do you get enough protein?"
"Good thing E is coming, she'll bring something healthy!" (said sarcastically).
"What is kombucha and why would you drink something that nasty?"
Peer pressure lasts long past middle, high school and even college years.
I've never once forced how I eat onto other people. Or even really talked about it. People are curious. They ask questions. And assume I want to project my lifestyle as the best lifestyle for everyone.
I don't. Dairy is calming for some people. So is beer. Lots of people would do well to eat less carbs, even complex ones, and more protein. Not me, though.
However, most people are not conscious of how what they eat makes them feel. Instead, they follow the masses, the trends. Pork belly for dinner. Fried chicken and waffles for breakfast. Beer and shots to take the edge off at the end of a long week.
They don't think about the consequences of the next day. Don't realize they have pooping problems because of how they eat. Don't realize how much better they have the potential to feel if they ate a leafy green once in a while.
It's tough to be the one grocery shopping, making meals, refusing brunch dates because you'd rather live a healthier lifestyle than your peers. Especially in a city like Chicago, where the social scene so dominantly rotates around restaurants, food scenes and dining out.
But when you know you feel physically healthier and more vibrant than your brunch dates, when you feel amazingly alive skiing while all your trip-mates are already pooped out, and yes, when your weight is ideal for you, then you know taking a different path is worth it.
And maybe, just maybe, you'll meet your own tribe of outliers.
It's hard, again, in an ambitious city like Chicago, not to get caught up in the need to prove oneself. Working longer, harder hours. Putting on a tough face at work to get what? More money, more power? Aka more problems? More loneliness? It's not easy being in the C-suite. It's lonely at the top. The grass is greener on the other side.
Most people go to work, hustle, come home, watch TV, go to bed.
Most people do not think about how they are miserable and how they might be able to make themselves feel better. Most people do not believe in the power of meditation. One colleague told me she thought it was "woo-woo" and for hippies. Most people think they need to go to the gym more to "tone up". Most people do not realize how much happier they would be, if instead of going to a stinky box tangled with metal and electronics and "E! News" blasting on the TV, they would simply go for a walk along Lakeshore Path. Kill many birds with one stone: experience nature, see beauty, get fit and de-stress. Most people, especially in Chicago, think that being lawyers and accountants and management consultants and finance and programming bros, will bring them success and money and fulfillment, and looks down on anyone who cannot and do not need to afford to wear a J. Crew ensemble to work every day of the week.
Some of these people certainly are happy. But most aren't. Otherwise, why would they be trying to prove something?
It's tough not to fall into this category too. To go against the grain, to take lunch outside when everyone else is taking it at their desks. For no one to understand when you explain that you need alone time, outside time, not to go completely crazy. To risk looking like a bad employee and ultimately getting fired because you make this choice everyday for yourself and not for them.
It's tough being different. Going your own way. But that's how you set yourself apart, how you don't fall into the same traps as other people. And luckily, those of us with copper locks are already used to being different, which makes it easier for us to go against the grain.