Despite my age and the times I grew up in I haven’t really changed since my freshman year of High School:
When I was in Middle school and Elementary School the facilitator gave me a lead role in group activities. Otherwise I would just work on my own. It’s not that the other students didn’t want my assistence but rather I didn’t see the point in my grades being determined by how I did an assignment with a group of my peers. I was confident in my own abilitiy to do the assignment so to me it felt like I was being asked to take on a role I was not yet ready for: The role of a teacher.
Post-high school I feel extremely anxious while working with others. My first job interview was when I applied for City Year in 2003. I told the staff member who interviewed me at the time speaking in front of a group of people was like being put in front of a firing squad. After all, up until then I had zero interest in going out of my way to stand out in public unless I gained something meaningful to me in exchange.
I thought it was going to be a struggle when I started my first year in City Year but by the end of the first week I was very well adjusted, which surprised me. I remember thinking at the end of the week this was the first time I could be who I was when I’m alone and not feel self-conscious or vulnerable. The social barriers I keep up around my family and when I was in school were nullified by the unique experience City Year provided for me. It also gave me something I’d never had until then. This was something I feel most people who had always had them often take them for granted. For me, this was something I swored I could never have due to my life experiences up to that point. It wasn’t because of how I felt about myself or my view of my peers growing up. It wasn’t fear of losing it as I knew even at a young age nothing lasts for ever. Even so, seeing others had them and my feeling I never could have even one always made me feel incomplete as a person.
I’m talking about Friends.
I’ve often said to my coworkers over the years without context “You have no idea how good you have it” or “Man, you are rich” and then immediately change the subject. In both cases I was referring to the fact they had friends both at work and elsewhere. They had people they could depend on and people who depended on them. They had people who supported them and liked to spend time with them.
The reality from my perspective: I wouldn’t know what that feels like.
Aside from my City Year team mates and a handful of folks from one of schools I used to work in I’ve lived a very solitary life. By choice yes but also by circumstance. I won’t go into detail on this blog but I will say I decided a long time ago I don’t want to be judged because of the people I chose to surround myself with. Rather than have external forces dictate who I have around me I decided there can be no one around me. Being solitary did have its benefits growing up in the 90s and early 2000s. Of course, back then social media sites didn’t exist and the internet was still young.
Nowadays I feel like I’m missing something. Not lonely but like there’s something missing. It’s funny: In virtually all of the stories I’ve read or seen about people who are social outcasts, they find a way to fit in socially. Even the bad guys. For the non-fiction stories it used to make me feel hopeful as a kid. Now I just feel indifferent because for me, the reality is I haven’t had my turn yet. I haven’t had my “and then everything worked out” moment where things get better. Nearly 25 years is a long time to wait for something most folks don’t really think about.
The stories I write help me cope with the reality. I’m able to find solace in getting my thoughts down on my blogs as well. My work with children over the last 12 years resolved me to do what I can to help kids know they are part of a larger picture and their life has meaning because of the people around them. My time in City Year helped me realize that last one and it’s the main reason why I tell people “City Year saved my life”.
The world is bigger than just one person. All it takes is a hug, handshake or a high-five to connect.