I was multilingual growing up. I found myself codeswitching back forth between different languages and worlds so often it would get confusing and draining, worrying if anyone noticed or if I had offended anyone. Have you ever experienced this phenomenon? I know I can’t be the only one. Somewhere along the line, I lost sense of my essence, who I was at my core, because I was trying to contort myself into these different groups, home, the block, church, school, and work.
There was no place I could let my guard down-I was continually playing defense-I wanted to play offense, put some points on the board, you know, like Serena or Lebron. Societal pressures to conform can feel overwhelming. I felt powerless wrestling with an unrecognizable force; it was as if I was a square peg being suplexed into a round hole and shoved down a dark pit. To fit in I’d have to cut off the corners, edges of myself to gain acceptance. I was still discovering myself. I wasn’t even sure if I’d need the parts I’d had to lopped off in the future-so I folded them up neatly and tucked them in a drawer inside my heart-in case I needed to refer to them quickly.
Initially, it was easy to bite my tongue and go along to get along. However, as time passed, these things, my emotions, feelings, character traits, and values would become tangled inside, like a pair of iPhone headphones wires in your front pocket. Trying to detangling them, would seem futile, frustrating, and I would feel awkward in public-stumbling for the right words. I’d eventually learn how to quickly sort through my box, immediately pull out the appropriate social lubricant the situation required. The interactions seemed staged, part of a bad script-a straight to dvd project-with a predictable storyline.
It was all new to me; I needed a crash course because they don’t teach this kind of stuff in school-the un-written rules. You only discover them once you violate one of them or witness what happens to someone who does. It would be easy if there was a sign that said, beware of dog-but there are no warning signs just consequences. You get socialized quickly when you’re sitting in a meeting and you see a colleague get pounced on, you learn to think twice before voicing an opinion or raising an objection that challenges the status quo. What’s ironic, hysterical, and sad to me is, was watching people, especially grown men nod their heads in agreement, lavish the leader with praise during the meeting and then complain afterwards.
I thought it was weird when it happened the first time. I was young naive and eager to learn, after the meeting, there’s another meeting, the unofficial raw uncut version, It’s called the “Bitching and Moaning Session” so I asked ”if you didn’t agree with what Robert was saying during the meeting, why didn’t you speak up, when he asked if there were any questions?” While waiting for their responses, I quickly scanned the room as if my eyes were equipped with some futuristic facial recognition software developed by Apple. What I noticed among the crowd were a range of emotions that instantly flashed across their faces, shock fear, and envy-as if to say who do you think you are? Chuckles and sighs were the first audible sounds to emerge before actual words were used to beat me into submission. Al said: ”You’re just a kid you don’t understand, it’s just easier to stay quiet-besides the less talking, the quicker we get out of these meeting.” Al went on to share a horror story of how he got labeled as unfavorable and banished to the pit, ”the pit” I said, ”Yeah that’s were they send you when they don’t like you any longer-you get re-assigned to a shit position.” Al went on to say: ”they can’t fire me because I know people, so they moved me downtown to make my commute to work longer-that’s okay I’m just buying my time.”
Each group had its own set of values; I wanted to be liked, I mean, who wants to be hated? One day I threw up my hands and stopped playing the game of working simply for the check-I wanted my life to have significance- I wanted to walk with integrity. The slide into the pit is gradual, you start making minor concessions contrary to your values; before long, you can barely stand to see the reflection of yourself in the mirror. I had convinced myself that this was only temporary-besides everybody was living a similar lie.
Rolling out of bed was hard, it seemed like a part-time job and I would have continued living in this hell on earth if something didn’t change. I had a crash that landed me in the hospital and I was diagnosed as bipolar-great, now, I’m black and crazy. After going through a period of initial shock, research, denial, acceptance and treatment; I finally started climbing out of the pit-and it felt great, if my in-laws invited to a family gathering and I didn’t feel like going-I didn’t go, and I didn’t allow people to make me feel guilty about not going. At work, I stopped toeing the company line in meetings, especially if I thought it was a stupid idea-I said so diplomatically. The thought of getting lost in between ”the switch” is horrifying. Where is that place? Is that even a thing? I don’t know, but I bet if it is, it’s dark.
I’m too old to be pandering for likes from total strangers, worrying about the algorithm on IG, staging perfect table settings and backgrounds. My life can get messy at times, I’m not perfect-and I’m ok with that. You can’t pressure me to conform to your arbitrary group norms by calling me a square-I’m okay with being a square-I am whole complete secure and so are you. Don’t believe the media hype, the latest gadget, car, watch, purse, or exotic vacation is not going to make you happy-those feelings are fleeting.
On Saturday, while driving back from running the Brooklyn Half, I received a call from the United Emirates-it was Hammad from Play.ht, we scheduled the call earlier in the week to discuss my interest in turning a medium post into audio-(side-note its an excellent service by the way). As we wrapped up the call, Hammad asked why I started my podcast-Behind The Wheel-was it to become famous? Nope! I started the podcast on a whim as a way to share stories of ordinary people who are doing EXTRAordinary things within their communities. To find our more me you can visit: Derek Oxley
Next up on the Podcast is a chat with Robs10kfriends. In 2015 a 25 year old Rob Lawless left his position as a Business Analyst in Strategy & Operations at Deloitte Consulting, took a large pay cut, said goodbye to powerpoint decks and spreadsheets for a laid back, $24 million venture-funded RJMetrics. Rob set an audacious goal of meeting 10,000 people 1:1 for an hour with no agenda-be sure to tune in.
Thanks for reading.