We are all different in different ways, which makes life interesting but challenging sometimes.
This was my first big revelation--not only had I thought I was different, I really was different. Not only was I in a different physical package from the rest of the group, I had a unique personality profile.
Let me count the ways I am different. Individually, none of the differences was very dramatic or meant much. Collectively, however, they added up. I always felt different: blond in a family of dark-haired people; the only female in the family over 5 feet 2 inches on both sides (5 feet 7 inches by the 7th grade); methodical, shy, and sensitive in a family of survivors (“we need to toughen you up so you get a thick skin”); Jewish in a town with only one other Jewish family.
Not that I didn’t try to fit in, but I wasn’t very successful. One of my biggest mistakes, in retrospect, was going to Brandeis University for my freshman year. I thought it would help me feel less different if I were among other Jews. Instead, I might as well have dropped in from Jupiter. The Jewish students quickly nicknamed me “the model” because of my height and coloring, and I lacked the mannerisms and background of the young women from Long Island and Boston. My luck with the non-Jewish students was a bit better, but I still felt betwixt and between, fitting in with neither group. I changed schools.
In the working world of the 1970s, being female made every woman “different.” We wore boxy clothing to hide our shapes, and we were told to practice lowering our voices. I made some half-hearted efforts at this but gave up because I looked like I was in drag when I put on a suit. When I was 27, I invaded an all-male world when I was named a marketing communications manager, the first woman in my company to hold the position. Salesmen flew in from across the country to look at me as if I was in a zoo exhibit. Unfortunately, as most women were at the time, I was considered “prey” and had to evade the harassment that buzzed around us like background noise.
That year all the managers at my level were invited to a meeting at which we were given a simplified version of the Myers-Briggs test. This was my first big revelation–not only had I thought I was different, I really was different. Not only was I in a different physical package from the rest of the group, I had a very unusual personality profile. I tested as an INTJ, one of the rarest of the profiles, about 1% of the population. And, 90% of INTJs are male, which means that female INTJs are 0.1% of the population. That explained a lot about me feeling as if I dropped in from Jupiter–a school teacher could go through an entire career and a family could go through successive generations without ever having met anyone like me.
As I did more reading about the Myers-Briggs test, I realized I needed to follow a different path in life. Corporate management was a poor fit for an INTJ, so I began to formulate a plan to go out on my own (a very INTJ approach), which I did a few years later. I also started to accept and celebrate being different in a quiet INTJ way. When I finally did take a corporate job again in my 50s, I felt a gut-level comfort with my new group. It turned out that two of the women in the group were INTJs. For the first time, I didn’t have to explain why I was thinking a certain way–we understood each other. (Note to other INTJs, we are over-represented in the Silicon Valley!)
One aspect of being different continued to excite my curiosity–being so tall and fair in contrast to my family. Was I some sort of genetic throwback? What was going on? I finally took a DNA test and had my mother tested. No, I wasn’t adopted, and yes, I was Eastern European Jewish–but not as much as the “average” person. My ancestry indicated that I had Western European heritage, to the extent that a great-great-great grandparent likely was from Great Britain. My mother’s DNA did not have this heritage, and by elimination I could trace it to my paternal grandmother’s line. Although I’ll probably never know additional details, I found it reassuring that there was a reason why I looked different. Now I stand out proudly.
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.