What does it mean to be “different”?
Why are some people labeled as “different” while others automatically fall under the category of being called “normal”?
Well, that statement alone begs the question, what is “normal”?
We use the terms normal and different frequently and casually in our American culture; however, every person has their own connotations and ideas that come to mind when hearing each of these words. Yet, there are some general ideas that can be assumed about each of these words.
Normal is often thought of as…
“not being weird”
“similar to everyone else”
In contrast, the word different is completely “different” than normal: people labeled as different are often thought of as being…
“unlike everyone else”
“not fitting in”
Most people don’t want to be seen as different. However, let me ask,
Why is this the case?
Can people be different and normal?
I prefer to think of the label different in a more positive light, such as:
Or “Stands out”
The better question yet is why wouldn’t we want to be these things?
Let me tell you a story.
Once upon a time there was a girl. This girl was seemingly “normal”; she had brown hair, hazel eyes, had a passion for music, was smart, loved to read and learn, was kind, and came from a seemingly “normal” family, but… she was a little bit shy. Although she loved performing music, when it came to interactions with people she did not have a lot of confidence. This last characteristic about herself she did not necessarily like, but it’s the way she was. She was a people pleaser and wanted people to like her, and the best way that this girl found to please people was to be nice, smart, and quiet. Although being quiet is by no means a bad thing, being quiet and shy frustrated this girl. She blamed her quiet nature for having trouble making good friends in school. She had plenty of “friends” and most people seemingly liked her, but nevertheless she felt alone. At recess she would often ask her classmates to play with them, and on days when she didn’t feel like asking she would swing alone or go talk to that day’s recess supervisor. She came to the point where she didn’t look forward to recess as everyone else did; it became the time when she knew she would have to seek acceptance instead of being overly welcomed by true friends.
You may have guessed it by now, but this little girl was me. And let me explain that the point in me telling you this is not to create a “poor Reyna” pity party – not at all. The point in me sharing this with you is because looking back now I know that I am not the only kid in the world who experienced feelings similar to this. And although I didn’t enjoy it at the time, looking back from ten years later I can say that I am glad I experienced these times of loneliness. Not because it was fun, but because it gave me a perspective that notices when someone is left out. The feeling of being left out… the feeling of being alone… this is one of the worst emotions a person can experience in my opinion.
The feeling that you don’t matter, of invisibility, and that if you’re gone no one will notice.
The feeling that you are completely alone and that no one understands what you are going through.
The feeling that you are weird and different from everyone else.
The feeling that nobody else can relate to you and what you’re going through.
The feeling that you aren’t normal.
Why is it that people are made to feel this way?
God did not create us with the intention for us to feel abandoned or alone – instead, he created us to feel loved and to love one another. However, humans are selfish creatures. We tend to be self-absorbed and don’t take the time to notice when someone is hurting or experiencing something that is troubling them. Not only that, but we tend to be fearful of the unknown and unfamiliar. We don’t enjoy experiences that make us uncomfortable. When we’re scared it’s often because we don’t understand, so ultimately we end up avoiding the situation altogether. A common fear among many people is the “fear” of what people think – the fear of judgement. I think I can make the assumption that a good majority of people on earth have at some point become preoccupied with what others think of them. The fear of what people think… of their image becoming tainted in a way that they don’t like. Yet, why is this the case? I suppose it’s easy to say, “who cares?” but to actually not care… that’s a completely new challenge entirely.
However, on the flip side, does anyone really notice half of the things you do? I’m not saying that people don’t notice you, but many of the things that we are aware of and believe to be so obvious about ourselves most people don’t even notice (a good thing in my opinion). So why do we waste all of this thought, time, and energy on worrying about what others think? Why don’t we push that energy outward and instead focus it on others by showing them kindness?
I follow a blog specifically on kindness by a woman named Nicole Phillips. A line from one of her latest blogs caught my eye a few weeks back when she wrote:
We each have the opportunity today to breathe life into another person. Sadly, we don’t know for certain what that person is going through, so if we don’t do it, if we don’t slow down and build someone else up, it’s possible no one will. That makes us invaluable – at any age, at any stage, in our lives. Your best moment isn’t behind you. It’s right in front of you. It’s today.
The moment I read this it completely resonated with me. It reminded me that my moment is NOW. That I need to quit worrying about myself and what is to come and instead focus on others – specifically on those who seem disconnected. I –along with most people- need to make a greater effort to do “simple acts” of kindness for everyone around me.
An act of kindness could be as easy as initiating conversation with the shy new girl who hardly ever speaks in your English class.
It could be helping the immigrant from Tanzania at church find a job.
It could be engaging with the barista who is making you’re macchiato at 7:32 in the morning, who appears tired and drained but because of your optimism seems to perk up just a bit.
It could be keeping a pack of granola bars under your car seat, so when you see the homeless woman on the side of the road with the cardboard sign that says, “God Bless, Anything Helps” you can smile, roll down you window, and offer her something to eat.
It could be inviting to dinner your neighbor with autism who speaks a little funny.
These are simple acts to do; yet, sometimes we’re too busy and consumed with what we’re doing to even think of doing such deeds as easy as this.
As humans, as people who God created to love others, we should be able to meet individuals where they are at. We should embrace people for who they truly they are – their differences included. My brother is on the autism spectrum. Most people do not take the time to understand my brother and are quick to judge and label him as being strange and different. I have another brother from Haiti who I have also watched attempt to conform to American ideals in order to gain acceptance. They, along with many others, seek to win approval from others. However, I do not feel that either of my brothers need to change, nor anyone who is “different.” Instead it is the seemingly “normal” people who should be able to meet individuals where they are at and to embrace who they truly are. We need to learn to appreciate different perspectives, diverse communication, and understanding people and the world in a unique way.
I believe that through effective communication, patience, and acts of kindness that this can be accomplished.
There are over 7 billion people on this planet and that number is only increasing. Can you imagine if we were all the same? What a boring world it would be! Thank GOODNESS we’re all different; so let’s learn to appreciate and embrace our differences!
After all, as Dr. Seuss so famously once said, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out.”
My brother Leif and I
My brother Ronald and I
My baby sister is graduating from high school in just a few short weeks.
Perhaps the word “baby” is the wrong word to describe the relationship between my sister and myself, as we’re only a year and a half apart in age. Yet, for some reason this small age gap always felt much larger than just a year a half, or so was the case until a few years ago. Once she finally caught up to me in size and we could finally start sharing the same clothes (prior to her growth spurt we were the Norwegian-girl version of David and Goliath. Not even kidding) she also “somewhat” caught up to me in maturity as well. Something shifted when she finally “caught up” to me: she went from being my “little sister” – someone who always picked on and annoyed me, to my “best friend” – someone who I could tell and relate with about nearly everything and anything. However, all along she has always been someone who has never failed to make me laugh about the most ridiculous of things, many a times making me shake with so much joyous laughter that my belly would ache and my eyes would water from the insanity of the moment. Sisters have a way of doing that to one another; they simply get each other without any explanation necessary. Perhaps it’s partially because of the shared DNA as well as shared experiences and upbringing, but there is undoubtedly a special connection between sisters.
But back to what (or more specifically whom) I was originally talking about.
This girl, the human who once upon a time I was forced to share a room with and who slept at the foot of my bed because she was scared of the dark, has always been and always will be my best friend - it just took me a while to realize that truth. And… I am in disbelief over the fact that she is graduating from high school in just a few short weeks, ready to embark on the next adventure of her life wherever that may be.
Rikka, you - along with many other high school seniors - are ready. It’s time to truly fly pretty girl. Perhaps you think you have been flying your entire life being a gymnast and all, but just you wait – now it is your time to truly SOAR.
The journey of COLLEGE is upon you – a new and exciting chapter in which many seventeen to twenty-something year-olds often experience a “rebirth” and rediscovery of themselves. It’s a time of exploration and an unquantifiable amount of learning! You’re in a setting with thousands of other students who are all there for various reasons but many of the same reasons – to receive an education and to finally “fly” on their own.
With this being said, college is by no means easy. Sure, it is undoubtedly exciting! But it is an adjustment and change from the life of high school and living at home. For many college freshmen, it is their first time living apart from their parents. It’s a time to practice “adulting” – growing up, figuring out life necessities, and truly finding one’s passions and who they’re called to be.
Consequently, because I have lived through freshmen year, I thought I would share my two cents about starting college. Obviously I am a college expert at this point (hah! I wish), having just finished my sophomore year at Concordia College (Roll Cobbs!) but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to share my insight and advice on the topic.
Rikka, & all graduating high school seniors, behold – ADVICE from a HALF WAY THROUGH COLLEGE STUDENT ABOUT COLLEGE.
The BEST Tips for incoming College Freshmen ~ (according to Reyna)
1. Get involved right away.
a. The toughest part about freshmen year is the feeling of disconnect and initially lacking a support system. This sense of community will come eventually, but if you can get on a team/club/group this will help you become connected sooner.
2. Try something new!
a. College is the time to rediscover yourself as well as hone in on any passions or interests you may have! College provides AMPLE amount of opportunities for you to do this. Stretch yourself; I promise there will be more choices for involvement than in high school – probably some of which you may not have realized even existed.
3. Be an Extrovert.
a. (At least for the first month) Don’t be afraid to be the person who goes up to people first. Take initiative. Show your confidence.
4. Keep God close.
a. College is crazy. Remember to take time for yourself and to continue to grow in your relationship with God. And… even when it’s hard, continue to trust him and his plan for you. Even when it may seem that he is silent and not listening, he always is and he is always there.
5. Work and Study Hard.
a. Remember why you’re going to college in the first place – to receive an education. Try to find the balance between studying and adventuring.
6. Be Thankful.
a. Need I say more?
7. Keep eating your veggies.
a. And avoid the softserve ice cream machine (most days) and dessert bar. (Dessert bar all the time? Yeah, that’s a thing. Keep being healthy and eating right despite all of the delicious looking sugar-infused foods! Also, avoid the soda fountain. Keep drinking lots of water. You will thank me later.)
8. Remember Your Family.
a. Although you may be in a new exciting place being filled up by all of the new individuals and festivities around you, your family is still back home living a nearly identical life to the one that you just left. And there is a void… because you’re not there. They’ll try not to bug you because they want you to enjoy your new “independent” life away from them, but don’t be afraid to call home once in a while. They still miss you.
9. Avoid Comparing.
a. A waste of time – DON’T DO IT – just do YOU 189% of the time.
10. Pick a major that Fills you.
a. When does time disappear? What are you drawn to? Where are your gifts? What comes naturally? What classes do you find yourself looking forward to? What perks your sense of curiosity?
11. Spend less time on Social Media.
a. Make more intentional time with the people around and in front of you.
12. Organization is Key.
a. If you didn’t use a planner in high school, I would highly recommend having one in college. Keep a planner on your phone or an actual hard copy.
Aside from these few tips, I also thought of a list of things that I wish I would have brought and bought initially.
Things You Definitely Should Buy When Starting College
1. A robe.
a. Who knows how far away the community bathroom is and how warm those hallways are in the middle of winter
2. Flipflops - for walking outside as well as the shower.
3. A stapler
4. A memory foam mattress - SO WORTH IT
5. A 3 whole puncher. It will save you a few runs to the library, trust me.
6. Forget the notebooks and folders, invest in BINDERS and fill them with notebook paper. Consolidates two things into one. Bam.
7. If you’re an avid coffee or tea drinker…. A portable mug is obviously necessary.
8. A Walmart bullet.
a. Yes, as in the mini smoothie blender. If you enjoy smoothies, a small blender is a wonderful healthy (and easy!) breakfast alternative to dining service’s breakfast options (trust me, after about a month the initial amazement and love of a dining center begins to wear off). I was a little apprehensive about purchasing my $20 off-brand bullet from the Wallyworld (thinking it wouldn’t work as well as the name brand Bullet) but it has proven me wrong. I would keep almond milk in our little dorm fridge and freeze bananas in our mini freezer, which combined in a bullet would make the perfect easy to make smoothie.
9. Plenty of highlighters, pencils, and pens.
10. A Planner.
a. I personally still enjoy having a hard copy of my schedule versus putting EVERYTHING onto my phone. College – life – is busy. Write everything down.
11. Christmas string lights. They make everything pretty and create nice mood lighting regardless if it’s Christmas or not.
And finally, last but not least, a list about FOOD.
Foods you will probably (and should) learn to love
1. Peanut Butter.
a. Makes everything delicious and is a good source of protein. Nuff said.
a. The one fruit that most schools will (and should) always have stocked. Eat them, freeze them, love them.
3. Instant oatmeal.
a. For the mornings when you don’t have time to brush your teeth when you wake up ten minutes before class. Or, if you’re a gum-aholic like myself.
a. A natural, “healthy” sweetener.
8. Easy mac.
I hope these lists helped. And if they didn’t… well, they are some good tips for a half-way-through college student to review and remember.
Seniors, Rikka, College is FUN. Try not to overthink things and psych yourself out about this next journey of your life. You’re ready. Don’t be afraid, embrace it wholeheartedly and get ready for the time of your life. It’s natural to feel frightened of the future and the unknown. It’s easy to think, “what if __(such and such)__ happens?” Well let me ask you this: so what if that happens? You will learn from it; we’re only human after all and we make mistakes. However, it’s perfectly normal to feel afraid and apprehensive about what is to come. When I find myself dwelling too much on the future, it always calms me to open my bible and turn to scripture. One of my favorite verses is Matthew 6:34 which says:
“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
This is complete truth my friends.
Plan ahead and look forward to what is coming, but don’t worry about it. Live in the now, the time you have been given today. The future will come soon enough but there’s no use fretting about it – like Matthew says, God will help you deal with all that is to come. He is striding ahead of you and will never fail you. He has incredible plans for your life that you can only begin to imagine. Trust and give him the control and wonderful things will happen.
Seniors, Rikka, be brave. Grad hold of this next adventure. I am ecstatic for you all as you begin this next journey.
Rikka, I will always be your proud big sister and I will always be there when you need me. Be bold sis - I love you.
currently lives in Fargo, North Dakota where she works remotely as a Policy and Communication Manager for the First Lady of North Dakota. Photography and writing are a passion that help her better appreciate the details of the world.