Socially Awkward? Scientists Say That’s Actually A Good Thing

Embrace your quirks, because "being weird is wonderful".

two women talking

Niamh Devereux says it’s time to embrace your quirks – so you do you, honey.

Hands up who hates small talk? I mean, really hates small talk. There’s nothing that makes my blood run more cold; that moment after you’ve bumped into Sarah from school and the how-are-yous and isn’t-the-weather-is-amazing-right-now chat has dried up. I don’t know about you, but I get very awkward indeed during this time-slows-down period. I tend to perspire, babble and generally cause the other person to back away slowly with a concerned smile, not even promising to go for that non-existent coffee date “sometime soon”. Okay, maybe I exaggerate a little, but I’ve always felt a little socially awkward in certain situations.

As the years passed, when braces were removed and alcohol was introduced as a social lubricant, my confidence seemed to gradually build up, yet I always did feel a bit awks in some social scenarios when other people seemed to be absolutely grand. Not to mention that I seem to be the real-life version of Bridget Jones. Embarrassing things happen to me ALL the time. This I am not exaggerating on. Take a recent tube journey in London during a sweltering heatwave when I was informed by a laughing carriage that I had newspaper ink all over my sweaty face.

Or the time when I set off a car alarm whilst fetching an umbrella as I covered a celebrity wedding for a newspaper; minutes later it turned inside out and I wrestled with it in front of an A-list guest list. Or the time I attended my first-ever press call as a fledgling journalist and was asked where I was from, and responded enthusiastically with ‘Wexford’ before everybody else in the room stated which publication they were from. I think you may have the impression that I can go on. And on.

Good news, then, when I read a report that basically says being a bit socially awkward is actually a positive thing. And it’s according to science, so, y’know, it must be true! Yep, Oxford University has found that awkward individuals have a whole host of great traits – an unusually intense focus, a passionate interest in things, and an unusual life perspective (they have to exert more to master social graces that come intuitively to others).

It got me thinking; rather than viewing our differences as a liability, we should be embracing our quirks, and we should start viewing them as the ways in which we can realise our unique potential.

Personally, I did start to embrace the fact that I can be a little totes awks at times, and I never let it hold me back. ‘Cos that study speaks some truth to me. Yeah, I might feel like I cringe at a lot at myself, but, for example, like the report says, when I place my focus on something, you can guaranteed it will be unwavering and I am ridiculously enthusiastic about, well, most things. And it was that focus and enthusiasm that pushed me to go from a cosy job in my local newspaper to work for a glossy national magazine, a job where I had to put myself out there at countless networking events (where you tend to get a crash course in the art of small talk) and interview celebrities, all the while telling myself that it’s ok I don’t find that kinda’ thing comes totally natural to me. Plus, when I go through another mortifying experience, I’ve learned to just lol at myself. Lord knows all my friends do.

It’s kinda comforting to know that all sorts of people can feel like awkward turtles. Have you seen the clip of Ed Sheeran that did the rounds a while ago, when he admitted that, growing up, he had a stutter and felt like an utter outcast? If not, go watch it. It’s lovely. Obviously, life has gone pretty well for ‘ole Ed since then, and he puts a lot of his success down to embracing his differences. “Be yourself. Embrace your quirks. Being weird is a wonderful thing,” he says in the vid. “Most of the people I knew that were ‘normal’ in school are all pretty dull right now, but those that are successful started life off as a weird kid with no friends.”

Other celebs like Justin Timberlake, for example, have spoken out with similar comments. “When you’re a kid I think you try so hard to fit in and when you get older you realize that fitting in isn’t really the thing that’s more interesting. Be different” JT said, while other famous faces have admitted to having weird and wonderful quirky habits; like Mila Kunis, who has a deep love for World of Warcraft, Beyoncé, who id obsessed with the number four (fun fact: her daughter’s middle name Ivy is made up of Roman Numerals I and V…I know, mind blown), and Megan Fox, who reportedly listens to Britney Spears songs while flying because she feels like it keeps her safe. I mean, fair enough.

See, I’m calling bullshit on what is perceived to be normal. Every single one of us has a trait or an interest which could be deemed as a bit odd by the status quo, we just may not realise how it makes us brilliant in our own unique way.

For further insight, I reached out to Niamh Ennis, known as the Change Coach (niamhennis.com), who says it’s all about altering your perspective and realising the importance in being yourself, whomever that may be.

“We spend the first part of our lives trying to fit in, to be just like everyone around us, trying at all costs not to be different and then in a massive statement of irony we spend the rest of our lives trying every way we can to be different, to stand out and to be unique,” she says.

“Being quirky as a teenager implies being odd, gauche even, whereas being quirky as an adult suggests someone who is exotic, free, independent and real.”

Think ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’, the type of female character (i.e. Jess in New Girl or Sam in Garden State) that is all about being kooky and full of wacky quirks and idiosyncrasies, which has blown up in the past few years. Why has this suddenly become a thing? How come it’s now trendy to be quirky?

“Maybe it’s because it ultimately takes us quite a while to recognise that we actually don’t need to be the same as anyone else?” Niamh suggests. “Because the reality is that we most definitely are not the same.”

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She adds: “There will always be commonalities, reasons we are pulled towards people in friendships, in love and in life but it’s what’s inside of each of us, that sense of being fully true to yourself, that makes us feel properly alive and aligned.

“We hear all the time that one of the benefits of getting older is the lack of caring what other people think about us about how we behave, act or even about what we say. Isn’t it such a sad and cruel irony therefore that we waste, and I don’t use that word lightly, so much of our lives, not being true to ourselves, of not accepting what makes us, us?”

With that in mind, what advice does Niamh have in staying true to yourself? “Never accept something that just doesn’t feel like it’s you, no matter what everyone around you is saying to you or telling you. Listen to your quirks, your differences, they’re actually telling you something,” she says. “Mine are my constant companions and I love that about myself.”

And we should all adopt a similar attitude, I reckon. Sure, as our very own Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken”. Yeah, you might feel at times that you’re a bit of a weirdo, but trust me, you’re pretty damn cool just how you are.

 

This article first appeared in STELLAR’s August issue. Our September issue is on shelves now!

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