I used to feel like making friends was incredibly easy.
Surprise! It’s not.
But then, I guess I never really knew what a “friend” was.
Up until recently, my definition for “friend” had been warped due to me not actually having any friends, which is kind of sad when you think about it, especially considering I’ve lived in this fantastic city for a year now and haven’t managed to stumble onto anyone I wouldn’t mind spending time around regularly (though this belief has fortunately changed in the last few weeks or so).
In fact, it wasn’t until a few months ago (when I started working with Identified, actually) that I was even made aware of my troubling situation. That is, my social circle at the time was full of egomaniacal and competitive dicks, with not an actual “friend” in sight. Oops.
I blame this on myself, of course. It was my decision, after all, to allow these people into my life where they could then poison my first experiences in this city. It was my choice to surround myself with people who didn’t really care about me, and cared more, instead, for their own personal gain or whatever ulterior motive my relationship with them could have provided.
I’m ashamed to say that the behavior of the people I surrounded myself with most definitely affected the way that I began to treat other people as well, and not in a way I’m happy to brag about. Because my social circle at the time had a sort of “elitist” and “cliquey” mentality to them, this mindset quite obviously rubbed off on me, and unquestionably influenced my own mannerisms in an all-too-negative way.
The Trouble with Trying to Fit In
I’m not proud of who I feel I was before, and I’m not proud of the way I ended up treating people because of my own stupid desperation.
When I first moved to San Francisco, I was so desperate for new friends in a new city (and I suppose growing up, I’ve always been sort of desperate for friends) that I ended up putting myself in uncomfortable and sometimes even dangerous situations just to try and fit in, just to stay social, and just to feel important. I was so desperate for new friends that I would agree to everything they said just to feel like I belonged, and just to feel like I wasn’t some sort of creepy, weirdo outcast who happens to write a lot and take several self-portraits for some kind of horse & pony Internet vanity show.
Looking back through old entries in my blog, I laugh at the many moments where I complained about how “none of my friends like doing what I like doing” because, my God — how did I not realize why I was so unhappy with my “friends”? How did I not see why I felt like such an outcast? How could I have been so stupid to let something like that go on for so long without taking charge of the situation?
Knowing what I know now, I face palm over the several instances throughout my life where my pitiful attempts to fit in landed me in terrible and, again, incredibly unsafe circumstances. Because I was so dead-set on establishing myself as part of a group, because I was so pathetically obsessed with not being alone, I agreed to things I never would have agreed to before had I been making those decisions on my own. Was I really so painfully unaware of my own obvious insecurity? Jesus.
My “friends” at the time, you see, didn’t make me feel good about myself. I felt like I had to … I don’t know. Be someone else around them. Like I had to sit a certain way, act a certain way, behave in a certain manner, wear certain things, talk about specific stuff — I couldn’t just be myself. Mostly, it’s because when I was first introduced to these folks (who I now realize weren’t really my friends), I was obligated to get along with them because my situation at the time deemed that I be cordial and make an effort to blend in.
I should’ve known better, but …
Personal pride got in the way of a lot of my decision-making.
My crippling, deep-seated perfectionism demanded that I repeatedly ask myself, “Why does everyone but you have friends? Why does everyone hang out in such large social circles while you’d rather go out drinking alone? Why do you feel so uncomfortable when surrounded by people you’re supposed to get along with when everyone else seems to be having a perfectly reasonable time? What, exactly, is wrong with you?”
I don’t know, you guys.
What exactly is wrong with me?
Earlier Signs of Unhappiness
In an entry from November 13, 2011, ironically titled “Why Going Out Alone is Freaking Awesome!“, I wrote the following:
“It’s such a crazy experience doing things solo. I had an amazing time not having to worry about anyone but myself, getting to make my own decisions about where I want to go, when I want to do it, and not having to babysit anyone’s feelings — it’s the best. I highly recommend this for people who don’t necessarily hate everyone, but definitely dislike the majority of their current social circle.
Here’s what I’ve noticed: Activities I’ve usually found unpleasant while with friends or in large groups have ended up being incredibly enjoyable when done alone. This has been the case for me with several experiences, not simply limited to bar-hopping and drinking. I’m a very social person by nature, but I just have such particular tastes that being around the same group of people for long periods of time starts to grate on my nerves.
After last night’s very-positive experience, however, I’ve made the decision to take even more control of my life than I already do, and just do whatever-the-fuck I want without worrying about everyone else. I can’t please everyone, right? Life is way too short to go through it living for everyone else — I refuse to continue this way.”
It was my first taste of freedom.
My first moment of absolute liberation.
November 13, 2011 was the first day I realized that making my own decisions apart from majority vote was okay, and that, miraculously, the world would not come crashing down around me just because I was doing something that no one else I knew at the time would have wanted to do. In fact, it was on this day that I first began to question the value of friendship in general, and first began toying with the benefits of complete social solitude.
This moment, along with many unwritten others, set the wheels in motion for what caused me to drop nearly 200+ pesudo-friends from my social circle. As they say, hindsight is 20/20, and I recognize the path I took now that I’ve traveled far enough.
The Real World Is Tough
It should come as no surprise (I’ve blogged about this before) that I’ve been let go from several professional positions in the past. Never really because I was terrible at my job, mind you (I’m actually quite good at everything I put my mind to, and my portfolio should speak for itself), but mostly because I’ve never been a proper “cultural fit” for nearly every single company I’ve worked for. This is unsurprising when you think about it, especially considering the topic of this particular blog post.
And er, while I’d love to sit and pick apart the list of reasons why I probably stick out like a sore thumb in the corporate world, that subject is a bit off-topic and, frankly, far too self-deprecating to ponder (publicly, anyway).
Instead, I’d like to draw your attention to the idea of “company culture”.
For those of you too young to understand what this phrase means (and I realize many of you reading my blog are still in high school), know that your training for the real world of company and organizational culture begins in high school. In fact, I’d venture so far as to say that your training for the corporate world begins the moment you begin socializing in daycare, pre-school, and goes all the way up to the moment you graduate from college, or a university, or wherever it is you happen to continue (or end) your education.
What Is Company Culture?
“Company culture” (or “organizational culture”, to be more broad) doesn’t just exist within corporations — it exists in life, in the friends you choose to surround yourself with, and in the decisions you make based on societal opinion. Company and organizational culture is the way you act when surrounded by new people. It’s how happy you are when expressing yourself while surrounded by colleagues. It’s mob mentality. It’s the manifestation of human intellectual achievement when regarded by the collective minds of your peers.
I’m getting too wordy. Here’s what Wikipedia says about organizational culture:
“Organizational culture is the collective behavior of people that are part of an organization, it is also formed by the organization values, visions, norms, working language, systems, and symbols, it includes beliefs and habits. It is also the pattern of such collective behaviors and assumptions that are taught to new organizational members as a way of perceiving, and even thinking and feeling. Organizational culture affect the way people and groups interact with each other, with clients, and with stakeholders.”
I bring up this idea of organizational and company culture to point out one startling fact: If your own values, visions, norms, beliefs, habits, ways of perceiving, thinking and feeling don’t fit in with the way your peers, company, or organization feels, thinks, and perceives, why would you ever expect yourself to be able to blend in with this alien tribe? Why would you even try?
Why Is Organizational Culture Important?
If the basic foundation of what makes you happy doesn’t match up with the people you surround yourself with, you are, inevitably, going to be unhappy. You are, undoubtedly, going to stick out like a sore thumb. You will be outcasted. You will feel like there’s something inherently wrong with you.
And the worst part is, you’ll continue to blame yourself for being different instead of celebrating the wonderful things that make you unique. You may even be punished by your peers for your contrasting personality, and all because you are surrounding yourself with people who are unable to care about the same things you happen to cherish and value simply because it doesn’t align with their own values and beliefs.
Understand that this is the fault of neither party, and no one is to blame for this terrible mismatch.
… Or rather, you are to blame if you don’t do something about it and sit around whining about how unhappy you are with your job or with your friends like some kind of helpless victim (I am also guilty of having done this in the past).
If that sounds like you, know this: You’re a moron.
Take charge! Get out of there! Extract yourself from that terrible situation and do something about it while you still have the balls and still have the motivation to. It’s scary, I know, and you will feel lonely, but are you not already alone? Are you not already unhappy? What exactly are you dreading — the fact that you suddenly won’t have any friends? Ask yourself: Do you actually have friends to begin with?
Take it from someone with experience: That loneliness will be temporary. Know that you absolutely deserve better. I definitely do. For me, as heartbreaking as it was to finally hit this realization, I knew that the changes I eventually ended up making in my life were going to be good for me in the long term, and that as scary as it was to let go of everyone I knew, it was absolutely for the better.
My First Encounter With Fitting In
For those of you who’ve been reading my blog long enough, you’ll know that I never give advice I don’t intend to follow myself, and that I always speak from a platform of experience before ranting about something I might otherwise know nothing about. So of course, I would never tell you to cut off all of the people in your life that suck if I hadn’t done it first myself. I also happen to maintain that what works for some might not work for everyone, so do try and take what I say with a grain of salt rather than as the law behind friendship.
When I first set out looking for a new job after parting ways with The Next Web, I began by prioritizing exactly what I wanted out of my new position. I wrote a blog post about being available for hire on December 3, 2011, in fact, that perfectly explains my renewed mindset at the time. That is, after realizing just how important creative freedom and a nonjudgemental environment is to me, I began to aggressively seek these same liberating qualities in new occupational opportunities.
Here’s an excerpt:
“When it comes to work, I already know what I want. I have enough experience to understand that I need to be in a position that challenges me creatively, allows me to create content, and allows me to utilize my own sassy personality (which seems to have gotten me pretty far, honestly) in a strategic and productive way that benefits my company.”
Now, because I finally put personal happiness first when making my next career decision rather than continuing down the path of desperately trying to fit in, I ended up stumbling happily onto a job with Identified where, my God, I have just never been happier. Not only am I challenged creatively, creating content, and utilizing my personality to benefit my company, I’m also very literally helping people every day just by showing up to work and doing my job. It’s like, by getting to do what I love for a living, I’m able to also help people who also want to be able to do what they love for a career as well.
I can’t explain how satisfying that is.
I really can’t.
Er — I realize this all seems a bit off-topic, so let me get to my point: Not only do I love my job, but I love the people I work with. I can’t even begin to describe just how important it is to enjoy being surrounded by the team you work with every day. I never knew how important great coworkers were until I started recognizing just how wonderful everyone on my team was: So smart, so humble, so passionate, so genuine, so welcoming, and so … Well. Just so not what I’m used to being around.
I’m so used to being verbally abused and mistreated by colleagues throughout my work history that this fresh experience of actually being surrounded by sincerely kind and wonderful people made me realize just how stupid I’ve been for so long by continuing to try and fit in with a bunch of dickheads. In fact, I wrote a blog post for Identified called “The Difference Between a Job and a Career” where I talked about just that.
Now, I get emails and messages sometimes from people saying that I talk about my job too much, and that it sounds like I’m sucking up or something. And to those people I say: Fuck you.
Loving your job and loving the people you work with is so absolutely rare, and I could give less of a fuck what any of you think about how often I talk about loving my job. I’ve spent the last 24 years of my life hating everyone around me and hating everywhere I’ve worked — I’m allowed to be grateful. I’m allowed to love my boss. I’m allowed to love my coworkers.
And the fact that anyone thinks I’m not allowed is, let’s face it, probably why I am probably not close friends with these people, and is more evidence to prove the “organizational culture” theory. That is, our values and beliefs are, unfortunately, just not a proper match, and we just don’t belong to the same set of mentalities.
The Catalyst – What Made Me Cut Off Everyone I Knew
Having finally met people I genuinely enjoy being around, people who I also sincerely care about and want nothing but the best for, people who don’t make it feel like a struggle to fit in because they — right off the bat — accepted me for who I am, made me realize: What the hell am I doing hanging out with assholes all day?
In my first month with my team, I ate lunch with them, got to know them, grabbed dinner and drinks with them, and really tried to understand where they came from, what motivated them, and figure out what their long-term goals are. As usual, I desperately wanted to fit in and was worried that I wouldn’t (as this has historically been the case for me). Surprisingly, my team didn’t punish me for trying to be their friend. Instead, they welcomed me. They understood. My team didn’t try to make me feel like less than I was just because I was different, and all because, surprise, they were — or are, rather — different too.
I’ve never had a frame of reference to compare what genuine people are like to what fake assholes simply pretending to be your friend are like. But after working at this company and with this amazing team, the shocking contrast became so painfully apparent that it actually made me go kind of insane. I started to realize how badly I’d fucked up by pushing myself to fit in with people who didn’t accept me, and I reacted pretty crazily because of it.
I remember going to an event with my former social circle and finally noticing, now with a frame of reference, the expressions on the faces of my so-called “friends” when I attempted to have conversations with them at the party — disinterested and disingenuous, forced and posed, tolerant rather than welcoming. It was like pulling teeth even trying to greet one another, and my God! The contrast! You would not believe the contrast.
If I hadn’t spent a month being surrounded by my mind-blowing team, I never would have noticed the difference.
But goddamnit, I’m so glad I did.
After about ten horrendous minutes at that event, I hopped into a car with an actual genuine friend of mine who dropped by to rescue me, both of us yelling “Fuck all of you!” loudly and several times in a row while we sped away, laughing hysterically, my heart pounding at the pure and euphoric release of it all.
Fuck all of you.
Fuck all of you.
When I got home, I deleted the numbers of everyone I hated, everyone I didn’t trust, everyone who I knew talked shit about me behind my back, and everyone I knew was only friends with me for some sort of personal gain from my phone. And then, because I’m obviously a social media person for a living, I proceeded to unfollow all of these same people from my Twitter. I also deleted these same people from my Facebook. From my Tumblr. From my Instagram. And from every other social service I happen to frequent just so I wouldn’t have to see their faces anymore. And then I wrote some kind of crazy, ranting entry online somewhere screaming about why I was doing all of this, and then I slammed my laptop shut, fell into bed, stared at my ceiling, and whispered, “Fuck all of you” again, and again, and again, and again.
It doesn’t make me feel good to admit any of this, but you just have no idea how disappointed I am in myself for allowing myself to be subjected to this sort of thing for so long. With all this time I spend trying to help people, give advice to people, and guide people along towards making better decisions, you’d think I would have realized by now that I was being an absolute hypocrite by not even bothering to drink my own Kool-Aid.
I remember thinking:
Have I really been so blind?
Is what I’m doing stupid?
Is it smart to cut off all of these people so publicly?
What sort of repercussions am I going to face by doing this?
What the fuck am I doing?
I have no idea what I’m fucking doing.
99.9% of People’s Opinions Don’t Matter
I remember the next day, while lying in bed in the silence of my room, getting a notification on Facebook Messenger from a colleague at work who I’d cancelled a dinner with in order to wallow in my own misery. I’ll pull up that conversation now and retype the messages here.
“A little,” I tapped into my phone.
“Personal, or work related?”
“Kind of both, I guess.”
“I’m sorry. Anything I can do? Hopefully it wasn’t something I did… Was it?”
That message made me laugh, as it made no sense to me. “No, silly. You didn’t do anything. I get to work with amazing people all day — it’s not you.”
“Ok, well I’m glad you love your job. I know the team really likes you, so you should feel awesome about that. But whatever it is, if there’s ever anything I can do to help, let me know.”
“If I give you a bunch of addresses to plant bombs in, you’d do that for me? D’aww! Just kidding. Kind of.”
“Haha. I assume you’ve got some people who hate you. Everyone does.”
“So many. I hit my breaking point the other night.”
“Watch this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7z_ztMxBgk”
And after I watched the video … “Lmfao.”
“So my hair ain’t luxurious!”
“How do you put up with it?”
Now, this quote, I will always remember: “99.9% of people don’t matter. Their opinions don’t matter, and don’t count. Only focus on the .1% that do.”
Had I heard that statement at any other time in my life, I would have dismissed it as just another wannabe motivational poster caption. But that quote came at a time where I desperately needed to hear it. That quote came at a time that made me realize just how much energy I had invested in the 99.9% of people in the world who don’t matter, rather than on the .1% of people who do. It made me realize just how stupid I was to neglect everyone in my life who truly cares about me, and how I’ve been blindly thinking that everything in the world is sunshine and rainbows where only good things happen to good people, rather than realizing reality versus the movies.
Growing up, you don’t realize how hard life really is until you actually experience it. People can go on sharing their wisdom and experiences with you as much as they might like, but the truth is, nothing ever sticks until you go through it yourself. And I remember thinking what a shame it was that I was forced to deal with my own sad, social insecurities in this way instead of just by intuitively knowing the difference between good and bad friends.
But then, life isn’t fair.
And the truth is, it only gets harder from here.
Making Friends Is Hard
Again, I repeat: Making friends is harder than it looks. The happiest looking person in the world might be surrounded by loads of people who look like they have all the friends they could want, but the truth is, they might be the loneliest. We all try to fit in. We all want friends. Some of us are even lucky enough to actually have some! For me, having finally stumbled onto a group of people I genuinely get along with, and through them being able to meet more folks who are also just as nice, I would definitely consider myself fortunate.
But the only way I was able to make new friends was by being honest with myself. The only way I was finally able to let good people into my life without judgement, and with an open heart, was by cutting out the bad ones who influenced me negatively and made me feel bad about who I am, and by being honest with myself about my insecurities and my faults.
These faults being:
- I generally suck at making friends.
- I’ve never been socialized with people who are actually kind and genuine (prior to now, anyway), and so I’m only used to associating myself with cliquey, judgmental folks, which, in turn, affected how I treated people I met in the past — that is, I’ve always been guarded, and always worried about opening up completely (and still am, actually).
- I suck at trusting people, and am something like a wild animal who needs to be beckoned and trained to trust with love and care as I am skittish, scare off easily, and tend to become overwhelmed in large group situations (unless it’s a business related situation, in which case, I flourish and shine for some reason).
- I apologize often for my faults when it comes to being awkward in social situations because, again, I haven’t been socialized very well with actual genuine people, and I’m sure my constant apologizing tends to get on the nerves. Naturally, for this, I apologize.
- I immediately assume that people don’t like me when I first meet them, as again, I’ve usually been surrounded by jerks who would gossip behind my back. I have also naturally been the subject of criticism due to being something of a public figure. Because of this, I greet everyone with caution, and tend not to say much or talk about myself at all unless someone goes out of their way to ask about me. And even then, I offer very little information, which I’m sure comes off as snobby or rude — but I promise, that’s not it. I just suck at trusting people, as I said in number 3.
- As outgoing as I seem, I’m actually only 110% confident in my ability to execute and perform well when it comes to work. But when it comes to making friends, again, I generally suck, and am very timid when it comes to attempting to befriend people or invite myself to outings and fun events with other people. Meaning, it might seem like I don’t want to hang out, but I really, really do. I’m just afraid to ask because, as mentioned in number 5, I immediately assume that people don’t like me.
Now, prior to admitting all of this to myself and to my new friends, I waltzed around acting like everything was fine. Because of this, no one really knew that I was hurting, or that I was having trouble making friends, or that I wasn’t happy.
But something I’ve learned is: To get what you want from the universe, you have to ask for it. No matter how preposterous it is, the only way to get what you want from life is to openly admit what you’re able to offer in return, and to humbly make your own request. This is true when it comes to making friends, and as demonstrated above, also true when it comes to landing your dream job.
Never be afraid to ask for what you want.
Never settle for anything less than you deserve.
Never pretend to be someone you aren’t just to impress someone else.
And cherish everyone and everything in your life that you hold valuable — never let someone make you feel like an idiot for your beliefs and your values, no matter how trivial those values and beliefs might seem to the rest of the world.
Making friends is hard, yes, but when you finally meet people you genuinely love, you’ll forget all about the 99.9% of assholes you tried to fit in with in the past and realize just how rare and valuable real friends are.
With all this said …
Would you like to be friends? :)
The change always starts with you,
Sherilynn “HeyCheri” Macale
PS! To genuine friends old and new, thank you. I wrote this for you, because I want you all to realize how much I appreciate you all being in my life, and really making me feel like I finally belong somewhere. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be appreciated and cared for with the same care and appreciation I hope you feel from me as well. And if this is just one big circle-jerk of happiness and friendship, I am happy to get you off with my gratitude every day. Please accept this mental friendship hand job out of the goodness of my heart.