How can I just be myself?
December 7, 2013 8:23 AM   Subscribe

I feel like I have very different (by society's standards) sides to me... and I don't know how to truly be myself in either one.

I feel like I don't belong anywhere. I know that it's okay to not belong anywhere, and be your unique, true self. But how do I be myself if I feel like no one would understand me if I was?

In high school, I was a really shy girl who was in the math team, competing in different math competitions and going to practices every week. Naturally I followed this path and went onto study computer science in university. I am now double majoring in a social science and computer science (two very different fields), heavily involved in extracurriculars (president of students union for our computer science students).

After high school, I became dramatically different. I started getting a lot more male attention. My friends from high school have told me I am no longer that shy girl back in high school. People started calling me attractive - something I've never known before. I started feeling confident enough to go to a club and enjoy myself. I used to dislike clubs very much before that, thinking it was for shallow people. I met men from my night outs, dating men - doctors from ivy leagues, financiers, etc. I started working part time as a promo girl for liquor companies.

I don't know how I can go from a girl who sits in front of a computer coding in Java all night and leading my university's computer science union to a girl who is a liquor promo girl in skimpy outfits... I feel awkward balancing myself. I feel like I have two dramatically different sides of me and people from one part would never understand the other. I sometimes feel a bit embarrassed to talk about coding/computers in front of my other co-workers who are promo girls. And I feel embarrassed to talk about my promo work and clubbing night outs in front of my computer science classmates whose idea of a great night is a night in playing video games. I feel awkward and I always feel like, in the back of my mind, I don't fit in at either places. I know I might be making a big deal out of this... but it's something that's been on my mind for a while and I wanted to address it because I couldn't find the solution alone.

So how do you think I can just truly "be myself" anywhere, with anyone? Thank you in advance.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (34 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
A stranger's two cents? I think the fact that you don't fit a stereotypical mold in either space makes you sound so much more interesting! Embrace those different parts. They make you stand out in a good way.
posted by cecic at 8:37 AM on December 7, 2013 [15 favorites]

To quote my favorite guilty pleasure movie, Ten Things I Hate About You, "You don't have to be who they want you to be."

Which means you don't have to be the math nerd in saddle shoes or the hot babe--you can be both. You can have as many facets to your personality as a well-cut diamond. And when you full engage all those facets--that's when the sparkles come. Your math abilities don't cancel out your fun-loving, liquor promoting talents. Fitting in is highly over-rated. The only place you need to really fit is in your own skin.

And how you chose to decorate that skin, be it with spandex, tattoos, graphic Ts, or leather, really is only your own business. You don't owe anyone else an explanation for your self presentation, your activities, your career choices, your social circles. When you have your own approval, no one else's really matters.

If you enjoy the promo work and it pays you--why not? There are far worse gigs. And if you get tired of it, you can always quit and do something else.

Richard Feynman was quite the party animal (he's playing the bongos, here.)
posted by Ideefixe at 8:38 AM on December 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

It kind of sounds to me like you are a well rounded human. Own it. Love it. When you do that you'll find friends who can relate and love you for having both sides.
posted by magnetsphere at 8:47 AM on December 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

I don't know what social science you study, but you might have an easier time finding female friends and role models there than in comp sci, which can be less friendly to the idea of a well rounded woman. I don't mean that you should stop programming or anything, but instead that it sounds like you don't have many high-achieving but still "feminine" friends who "get" you. I'm a nerd who occasionally likes to have a girly night out, and having a group of female friends who all have (and excel at) their own chosen type of nerdery is a real source of comfort and inspiration for me.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:52 AM on December 7, 2013

I hope this doesn't sound patronizing, but you are still very young, and still very much at an age where most people struggle with the "who am I really?" question. I'd say, don't really worry about that so much. You'll figure it out, but not for a while, probably.

In the meantime, I think the best way to be true to yourself is to remember that you really aren't required to explain or justify yourself to anyone else - or to yourself! If other people don't understand the things you like to do, that's ok. If they're jerks about it, remember it has more to do with them and their own insecurities than with you. But also, most people honestly won't care, beyond the "oh that's interesting/weird/different" level, since they're too busy trying to figure stuff out for themselves.

Also, the cool people in both sides of your life will either understand or just accept you. Anyone who doesn't accept you, well, they may be fine people in other ways, but clearly you're not meant to be good friends with them, and that's ok. There are always going to be people out there that you just won't click with.
posted by lunasol at 8:54 AM on December 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

My friend Anita Borg was quite the partier. You're less of an outlier than you think.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:59 AM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sounds to me like you've got the recipe to a very tasty life. So you can enjoy the freedom of never having a dull moment. The freedom to converse with all sorts of people from very different backgrounds. At the end of the day it's up to you if you wanna let people see both sides of who you are. I have a feeling most people will like you even more when they learn what an interesting person you are. For now you're young. You don't have decide who you are today. It's ok to have friends from different circles. Eventually if you want...you'll be able to comebine you're social/promoter side with your high intelligence/computer programmer side and I think it will be the combo that leads you to great success both careerwise and relationship wise.
posted by ljs30 at 9:03 AM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do you practice yoga? I'm being serious when I say that practicing yoga that has an emphasis on mindfulness might be something that you may really dig. Also, if you're keen to do some reading, consider checking out some books by Cheri Huber. I say this because it sounds to me that what you're searching for in part are tools that will allow you to be better accepting of yourself. The two things I mentioned are practical tools that may help with that, if you're so inclined.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:06 AM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Those are two very different interests and lifestyles, it's true, and you shouldn't feel like you need to "hide" parts of yourself from each group. But at the same time, most people have friends with differing interests in their lives, and it's not necessary to be about every part of yourself at once.

I have three primary groups of friends that I've come by from different interests and to say they don't always blend well is putting it mildly. Any time I bring them all together, I can count on a subset being bored, a subset being annoyed and a subset being offended.

And it's a weird sort of feeling, because I like all of those people and I feel like they should like each other, but friendship and interests aren't transitive. Just because I like knitting and I like tabletop gaming doesn't mean that all my knitting friends will like tabletop gaming, and it definitely doesn't mean that all my knitting friends will like all my tabletop gaming friends.

I think the most important thing is for you to respect all parts of your life. You don't need to hide them, but you also don't necessarily need to blend them, either.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:15 AM on December 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

A little anecdote: I once worked at a place where the porters in the receiving department were all these giant hulking punks, men and women with torn clothes and tattoos and facial piercings and surly demeanors. They listened to music that was just horrible noise all day long. I was scared of them for a while when I started. But after a while I noticed that at 11:00 every day they'd turn on the Diane Rehm show and listen and then talk about whatever the geopolitical news of the day was, and the contrast between their demeanor and the fact that they listened to Diane Rehm fascinated me, and I started hanging out with them on my smoke breaks.

In time I came to understand that there wasn't really a contrast in them. There was just a contrast between who they were and who I thought they were. It turns out that the contrast was in me, using a mental shorthand to pidgeonhole people instead of seeing the actual people in front of me. I was wrong, in a small way. They were just being who they were, and if I'd kept living with the shorthand and not the reality, I would have missed out on some friendship and good conversation. The shorthand I was using was holding me back.

How this might apply to you: having multiple sides means you are a whole person, with complex interests and motivations that cannot be summed up in a few adjectives. That is part of the wonder of being a person instead of a summary. Embrace yourself. Find other people who embrace you for being whole, rather than for using a shorthand to sum you up. And, maybe, work on not using that shorthand in your own life: everybody around you, every single person you encounter, has hidden worlds in them. Start looking for the depths in others and you might find that you have room for your own depths as well.
posted by gauche at 9:21 AM on December 7, 2013 [42 favorites]

Basically echoing what everyone else is saying. You're overthinking this to some degree. While it is true that a lot of people won't understand in the sense that the sort of people you are likely to meet in each of those pursuits won't know what the hell you're talking about if you start talking about the other. However, it's freakin' awesome. The world needs more CS-types with social skills.

There's nothing inherently wrong with clubbing (it's fun!) nor playing video games into the wee hours of the morning. If you like both, do both and don't feel bad about it, even if one set of your friends thinks it's weird, which they probably will. Not in a "holy crap anonymous is weird," but in a "oh, that sounds terribly boring...weird.." kind of way.

Most of us have friends that are very different sorts of people who run in different circles. As you get further along in life, you'll come to find that the only people who not close friends or family and who are paying close enough attention to what you're doing to approve or disapprove of who you're spending time with socially are people you don't want to associate with anyway, so it works itself out to some degree as people get a life.
posted by wierdo at 9:39 AM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Society has spent your whole life telling you that you can either be a NERD, in which you must be unattractive, have limited social skills, and dubious personal hygiene, or you can be attractive and sociable, in which case you are somehow obliged to be an idiot, except when it comes to an encyclopedic knowledge of shoe designers.


You can be attractive and clever, you can be sociable and nerdy. There are a lot of women out there who are all of these things, and you know what? Half of them are either deliberately looking frumpy (in order not to be thought an idiot) or pretending to be stupid (in order not to be thought boring). But seriously, fuck that shit. If you can openly carry off everything at once, there will be plenty of other ladies out there thinking you are awesome and wondering if they could do the same thing too.

The trick is to hang on in there until you can find some other folks kicking ass that make you feel like you fit in. They are out there, you just haven't met them yet.
posted by emilyw at 9:42 AM on December 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

You're a complex person with different likes who feels like she can't fit in anywhere? Fortunately for you, there's a support group for that: it's called everybody. We meet at the bar.

Now, I'm not saying this to be dismissive of your question, but rather to point out that your problem isn't an uncommon one. When we're young, we have a fixation on shunting people into various silos that their identity is supposed to belong to. But that's something we are doing to them and doesn't reflect what their inner lives are like. What you're realizing is that your inner life doesn't reflect the silo that you and others have put you in and are wondering how to deal with that.

Now, to be fair, what you're going to realize over time is that you have certain values and priorities in life, and you're going to look around at some of the people around you and have the realization that they don't necessarily share those priorities (See this AskMe from last spring).

You might decide that your intellectual life is a big priority and a part of who you are, and you might decide that a lot of the people you meet at the club scene aren't like that and deprioritize that side. Or you might form a subclique within the club scene of the people who share your personal values and temperament. Or you might do the converse within the people you know at school.

You're still young and figuring out what lots of different people are like. Stick with doing that. I wish I had done that a lot earlier.
posted by deanc at 9:56 AM on December 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Most people I know would actually think that what you do is really cool--I know that if I'd met someone like you in my early twenties I'd have felt less alone. I'm a woman, I studied computer science. I've been a software engineer for several years. I also play sports, dance at punk shows and have a pretty weird sense of humor. I used to think that all my differences would make it hard for people to "get" me, but I've found the opposite is true. My variety of experiences gives me perspective and makes it easier for me to find common ground with people. Having a wide range means that you have more groups you fit into, not less.

Keep doing your thing. You're in your own category (though I do want you to know that I've met a lot of women like you, so you're not alone by any means). People are going to want to fit in with you, not the other way around. Feel free to PM me to say hi if you'd like!
posted by rhythm and booze at 10:03 AM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hi! I had to come in here and comment because I am also stuck between two worlds. My degree is in electrical engineering, I love Star Trek and math. But I also love makeup, fashion, arts and vapid pop-culture; I also love mythology, I am a practicing Buddhist, and I speak French fluently. I just don't fit anywhere.

From years of feeling cramped in both locations, I learned to just be out loud n' proud. I wear flowers in my hair to work, and statement outfits. I tell my coworkers when my vacations include a meditation retreat. And I dig deep into semiconductor process modelling, and enjoy a good debate about data or setting up my friend's tv.

Just be out n proud. After high school (and to some degree, university) people are much more understanding of rounded differences in interests, and very few will take you down for not fitting the mold. And then you will find people like you. I assure you, the world is full of mathematical hippie partiers. And there are suitable partners who will see and love all sides of you, believe me :)

So let your true self shine through in any location. Wear what you want to class. Have a self-assured opinion when you're pimping liquor. The main key is that you are being true to your thoughts and feelings in any given situation (rather than overly-censoring yourself to fit in). Sure you won't say everything anywhere, that's not social intelligence. Just don't pretend to be dumb while you're selling drinks, and don't pretend not to love skirts if you're at school.

You will find people in each location who may be put off; the guy buying drinks who feels uncomfortable after finding out you're in science or the nerd who sniffs his/her nose up at you for dressing how you want, but ignore those judgments. Can't please everyone!

(FWIW you might get along well with Europeans, as they seem to have a good balance of social and intellectual.)

Enjoy it! You will find your crowd. Explore yourself, keep your head in your heart and you'll be fine.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:19 AM on December 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

You have both what the geeky girls want and what the promo girls want. You should be celebrating your awesomeness. And you can do that by having a big confident smile no matter where you are and being proud of how well-rounded you are.
posted by Dansaman at 10:19 AM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

While I was in art school, I was also in the army reserve. I got a degree in philosophy, and went on to do web design.

One of our many legacies of the Boomer generation is this idea that there's an essential you, and a good and healthy lifestyle requires acting out that essential you at all times--that anything other than just 'being who you are' is selling out, or being inauthentic, or whatever.

Bullshit. First, there is no simple you. You're a complex, changing person with different personas and different needs in different circumstances, and that's okay. Better than okay, it's awesome, it makes you a much more interesting person.

Second, you are who you are, but how you behave is entirely under your control, and it's perfectly alright to behave differently with different groups--again, it's better to be able to do so. Your liquor-hottie colleagues probably don't want to hear about design patterns in Java; your CS colleagues probably aren't impressed by how many shots of Jaeger you can do. There's nothing wrong with either group enjoying the part of you they enjoy, and no need for either group to experience some mythical "complete" you.

As you go through life, you'll come across this situation again and again, where parts of your life don't mesh neatly. Don't worry about it: they don't have to. There's nothing wrong with having different groups be different things to you, and in some cases it can be hugely beneficial.
posted by fatbird at 10:20 AM on December 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

You might want to look into the Buddhist teaching of anatta which is not about a denial of self as much as a lack of attachment to the ideas about what 'self' is, its insubstantiality. Once one sees through all these conflicting ideas, the problem disappears and there is just life and the living of it left. This may take some studying to see if it helps.
posted by claptrap at 10:26 AM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

You are growing.

You're in flux, and you will be for the rest of your natural life. Your classmates that don't get why a computer science student would want to go clubbing or your co-workers who don't think girls selling shots should be studying computers are simply being narrow-minded. They probably have interests that don't fit the stereotypical mold of CS student/promo girl as well, but feel less inclined to look past their own biases.

From what you have said, it seems like you have outgrown your own internal biases and previous expectations you had for yourself and are feeling a little bewildered about this. Congrats! You are hurtling forth into new dimensions of personality and life. "You are large, you contain multitudes" to loosely quote Walt Whitman. This is my own personal opinion, but I strongly feel if you are not changing and growing in some fashion, there is something wrong, something stifling you, and something in your life that needs to change.

"Variety is the spice of life" is one of the oldest sayings out there and I think it endures for a reason. You seem to enjoy both aspects of your life. Think about what your life would be like if you gave up one or the other to fit into some generalized idea of what a ________ person should be like. Would you be any happier? Or would you feel less fulfilled? Less "you" even?

You can just be yourself, by doing just that. Embrace your complexities. Enjoy the perspective you have from your own lens of life.

I feel university students can be at times prone to generalizations due to the fact that a lot of the people they meet can fit some kind of homogenous mold: junior/senior/freshman, comp sci/pre-med/liberal arts, theatre/student government/sports, etc. There are frameworks there for taking a stock measurement of personality that also exist in the real world (age, occupation, location) but don't exist as strongly. Also, just because you think you can get a quick picture of what someone might be like based on those factors doesn't mean you're actually right. In fact, oftentimes you will be wrong. People can be very surprising, as you may know :)
posted by sevenofspades at 10:47 AM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Fitting in doesn't have to mean being identical to your friends in all respects, it means you have something to offer them, in terms of shared interests and personality. You can have different facets to your interests and different facets to your personality that let you fit in with different groups.

If one group of people says, "We like P, Q, and R about you!" but then a different group says, "We like X, Y, and Z about you, but then, you have this other thing Q and we don't like it!" then to hell with 'em. Find other people who like X, Y, and Z, and are willing to also accept—or even better, celebrate—P, Q, and R.
posted by BrashTech at 11:24 AM on December 7, 2013

Speakinng as an app developer techno loving acroyoga teaching martial artist that likes to paint minitures. I would say your just about right :)
posted by Takeyourtime at 11:40 AM on December 7, 2013

Why don't you find a more white collar replacement for your part time liquor promo job? Or maybe find a way to marry the two worlds? Sounds like the current setup is fucking with your head.
posted by oceanjesse at 1:11 PM on December 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm another person with two wildly different sides to my experience. A small measure of compartmentalization is necessary - people on each side at times find my interest and commitment to the other surprising, even outright weird. I don't mind. I don't try to pretend to be something I'm not, but I also allow each different environment to teach me its own lessons.

I believe we each contain many people - not just a multitude of possibilities, but the seeds of many distinct people, with sometimes competing needs and goals. I consider myself very fortunate that I've come to a place where I can explore so many of my potential outcomes, and that I have such diverse communities and relationships.

As for advice, don't be afraid to let some of your "alternate" self bleed through in each environment. People will surprise you. To some extent, seeing the two sides of yourself (and the people you encounter through each) as separate is an illusion, a trick of expectation. The more you grow comfortable allowing them to coexist, the more people you'll find who, like yourself, aren't confined within stereotype.
posted by itstheclamsname at 1:21 PM on December 7, 2013

In high school, I was on math team in high school and won a bronze medal at the USA Biology Olympiad. In college, I studied CS and biochemistry, and was co-chair of the campus ACM chapter for two years. I've also been a sex educator, a bike mechanic, and an EMT. In my spare time, I read Regency romances, lift weights, and do several closely related styles of UK and US folk dances.

Nor am I in any way unusual. Tech people pop up in all of my hobbies: rides with the cycling club, lifting at the gym, festivals for these folk dances. And from listening to their conversations with each other, I can tell there's a whole range of other things they do not with me. I know programmers who are into small-craft aviation, martial arts, knitting...I just had a conversation with a total meathead (like, six workouts a week, runs with forty pounds of bricks in a backpack just for fun) about how delighted he was to be back on a bulking cycle because he could cook boeuf bourguignon again---Escoffier recipe, not Julia Child's, mind you.

I think undergrad CS majors right now are a particularly narrow sample of tech-type folks. There's a very local (in both time and space) tendency to get near-obsessive about the field. I think if you talk to some professors or grad students or people in industry, you'll find that they have much richer lives than you seem to expect.

And I think the whole "passion" thing has very recently encouraged techy people to become obsessed with work. From what I've heard from older people, it used to be perfectly unremarkable that one could work with computers during the day and need to leave on time because you had a family waiting at the dinner table or some hobbies on the weekends.

I don't know anything about the promo girl business, so if you say you can't talk about computers with those people then I won't argue with you. However, regarding tech people at least, I can say that you seem to have an excessive narrow idea of what we do, and you could probably loosen up a bit there.
posted by d. z. wang at 1:35 PM on December 7, 2013

I heartily second all the advice here that recommends that you not shy away from presenting all the aspects of your personality in front of whatever group of people you're around, if that's what will make you the most comfortable (some people prefer to live a more compartmentalized life, but it sounds like you feel constrained by that approach). You might alienate some people, but in general I think you'll find that people are more tolerant than you'd expect,* especially once you've established that you already relate to them pretty well.

The other thing I'd note is that this gets way easier and less remarkable after undergrad. It becomes a lot more clear to people that identity sits on a continuum rather than falling into one of an externally-imposed, small set of bins.

* Though I agree with d. z. wang that the culture of the undergrad CS major has a pretty myopic collective understanding of what a complete life looks like, so to some degree you've got a slight uphill slope to walk there, but I still think this sentiment holds.
posted by invitapriore at 2:14 PM on December 7, 2013

This is the fault of Facebook, which assumes that we want to present an unitary self to the world (unless you maintain several different FB accounts).
posted by bad grammar at 2:38 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if what you're asking is how to deal with this new facet of yourself that has opened up -- outgoing, sexy woman v. shy, studious kid -- or if you're asking how to deal with having to live in two cultures at once and feeling like a stranger in a strange land in both.

If it's the former:
People are willing to pay quite a bit for access to female youth and beauty, and that can be a fun and lucrative thing to exploit. It sounds like being a promo girl is great for your confidence and is teaching you a lot of social skills, and for what it's worth, I think you should definitely keep it up. That confidence and social grace will be great assets to you for your whole life. *BUT.* Be very careful that you don't let other people's judgments of you (or attempts to make money off you or attempts to get in your pants) become part of your personal identity.

Other people's judgements of you aren't what make you *you.* Their attempts to get in your pants or get you to make more money at the club or whatever, are just attempts to make a deal. Those are transactional relationships, and a transactional relationship is by definition not deep or metaphysical; it's a way for you to give someone what they want in exchange for what you want. Transactional relationships can be fun and rewarding! But they don't mean more than what they are, they're just a way to buy what you need and sell what you've got. Please don't take offense at this, I mean it in a big sister kind of way: don't buy into your own hype.

Also, for your own safety and peace of mind, don't underestimate the people around you. Just because you see a person in only one environment or while they're playing one role, doesn't mean that that person is one-dimensional. Whatever you believe about yourself (that you're multifaceted, that nobody can completely understand your perspective, that you have a unique set of skills/abilities/talents) -- is probably true of you, but is also probably true of literally every other person around you, because having your own mind and soul and being an individual person is what it means to be a human being (as opposed to a promo-girl-bot or a student-bot or whatever).

Keep your eyes on the prize of what *you* actually want. Figure out your non-negotiables and priorities now, and stick to them. Literally write them down, if you can. Otherwise you're just going to get yanked around trying to give everyone else what they want from you and getting whatever they feel like giving you in return.

If it's the latter:
Compartmentalization is key to maintaining your sanity. But it's also tough when you're just learning about both/either of these cultures and so you're *always* off-kilter.

You might want to read some books about people who also feel between worlds, or feel like strangers even in the places they're supposed to feel "at home" in. Off the top of my head, books that I've enjoyed like that are: The Secret Garden, What is the What, White Teeth, The Impressionist, a lot of Kafka's work (try The Trial, and his short stories, especially), a lot of Richard Wright's work (I recommend Black Boy over Native Son, but Native Son might have a theme closer to what you're looking for)...In that same vein, you might want to try writing out some of the situations that are confusing you, because situations sometimes seem clearer and it's easier to see the patterns in them when you write things out.

I think it might also help for you to be more open with other girls in your department/school and the other girls at work at the club. While some people do live their whole lives within the same milieu, a lot of people don't (and I guarantee that you work and go to school with some people who don't). Don't assume that just because a person is really good at playing the role you're used to seeing them in that they don't play other roles just as well and that they don't have an interior life just as deep and confusing as yours.
posted by rue72 at 3:20 PM on December 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Your situation reminds me a little of Jenna Marbles. Maybe her videos can help you learn to cope with juggling various roles?
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 3:36 PM on December 7, 2013

Sounds like a cognitive block to me. The only one telling you this is so, this disjuncture between two different avenues of life, is you. There's no inherent disparity there. It's not written in the fabric of the universe. Good opportunity for you to check out the contradictory messages you have assimilated about social behavior. You could just as easily decide to really enjoy this 'secret' double existence and just rock it for all it's worth. My two cents worth, your mileage may vary.
posted by diode at 4:18 PM on December 7, 2013

Some variant of this is incredibly common amongst nerdy girls that turn out to be otherwise reasonably good-looking or eager to embrace their feminine side. Being in any way shape or form "traditionally" feminine makes you a total oddball in tech (certainly at least in your early 20s), and you are going to have to decide how much you want to deal with it. When I was in college I got serious shit from my friends for wanting to play with makeup. I can't even imagine what I would've heard if I had been a promo girl for a liquor company; basically, no one would have taken me a bit seriously.

A lot of folks are telling you that this is how everyone is, and that is totally true to some extent, but I think that you are at the very, very far end of unusual in engaging in the 2 roles of "CS nerd" and "promo girl". As a woman in tech you will constantly be questioned as to whether you belong just by virtue of your gender. If you choose to do stuff like being a promo girl for a liquor company, and that becomes known, you are going to at best get a lot of shit for it, and at worst find that you lose a lot of respect from your classmates (and I think this would be true not just in tech but many more "academic/nerdy" areas of study). It takes a lot of self-confidence to get through the first few years of a tech career as a woman without the added burden of not even remotely fitting in culturally. I personally think that having a career in tech, despite the BS you have to go through, is absolutely absolutely worth it for a number of reasons, but I worry that you are going to have a really tough time of it.

To me, your question reads to me like you are someone from a more traditional background; maybe a child of immigrants, who is smart and was raised to work really really hard, but also has that weird brainfuck of "must marry a wealthy man" and "woman's ultimate value is in her looks". So, I guess if that's true, I will say this. You are allowed to contain multitudes, and enjoy clubbing, and date doctors, and even be valued mostly for your looks if that is what you want, but that shit is fleeting. You can also enjoy clubbing but in moderation and still protect your future by seriously engaging in your studies and your work. If you think you're doing the clubbing and the promo girl work not because you absolutely LOVE being a promo girl but rather that you believe that it proves you are somehow more valuable than you used to be as a great student, perhaps it is worth taking a hard look at why you think that is so. Because you have to LOVE yourself, and all facets of yourself, to get through the next few years of your career, especially if you are not going to embrace the nerd life.
posted by ch1x0r at 8:39 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're pretty young. Here's the thing: You don't have to fit the stereotypes if you don't want to. It's all in your head. Like I know people who have built their whole identity around being gamers that love video games and then one day they don't really enjoy video games anymore for whatever reason but they still keep forcing themselves to do it because I'M A GAMER and they think that's all they can be, but that's mostly in their heads. And they're miserable in their own lives, the only life they will ever have, because they've constructed themselves into a stereotype cage and refuse to open the door and let themselves out.

People post-college tend to be a lot less cliquish about their interests than teenagers.. I know bankers who are hardcore into the fetish/BDSM scene. I know nerds who run marathons. I know hardcore sports fans who are also hardcore video game fans. And, frankly, people who are narrow-focused about their interests are pretty boring once you aren't forced to socialize with them for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, in school.

On the professional side: People who are paralyzed at a business conference because the only thing they can talk about is Dungeons and Dragons, or vice versa, are also going to take a professional hit because being able to talk to lots of different kinds of people is an important skill in the working world. Being a Java programmer who can socialize with the business dudes will get you paid.

I speak from experience. I work in a pretty nerdy career field and punched way above my weight because I could conduct myself professionally and talk about things other than the career field. Like at a conference, everyone else would be in jorts and old t-shirts and I'd rock up in a collared shirt and pants and look professional, and suddenly doors opened for me. I could talk to the guys in suits about money or sports or whatever interested them and suddenly I had friends in the C-Suites that could get me hired.

The real benefit of being an adult is you can be both things. Or all the things.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:43 PM on December 7, 2013

I think this is probably going to get easier to integrate as you get older. Your extremes might get a little less extreme (you're not going to be a liquor promo girl forever), and also I think you just get more used to the idea of people not knowing EVERYTHING about the REAL YOU.

You don't have to talk about everything you do with everyone you know. Your liquor promo friends - you can say stuff like "I was up really late working on a project for school." They probably don't care about the error that kept coming up or that you finally found the answer in a stack overflow post from five years ago. You don't have to tell your CS colleagues about your dates or club nights.

Like, my coworkers know almost nothing about what I do outside of work, and I know almost nothing about what they so outside of work, and that's fine. Right now I'm hanging out with a big group of people who I sing with... I see these people every week and I've spent 36 out of the last 48 hours with them (on tour) and I don't even know what half of them do for a day job. I doubt most of them know that I'm a software developer. It's just not a big deal.

Even a little more extreme, I was talking to a friend (we've been friends for 10-plus years) and her husband is also a developer (she's not) and I realized I didn't know anything about what kind of work he did, and I asked her what languages he works in and she was like... "I have no idea." They've been married for like 15-20 years. I have another friend whose husband is a Java developer and she doesn't know that there's a difference between Java and JavaScript. These are not stupid women, they just have different professional and personal lives. And their husbands don't know anything about biochemistry or teaching music (their wives respective careers) either.
posted by mskyle at 7:27 AM on December 8, 2013

read what rue72 said; very wise words indeed
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:59 PM on December 8, 2013

Give people the chance to know and accept you as you are.

Give yourself the gift and the experience of not living in hiding and of being happy with who you are.

If you are positive and comfortable, you will be surprised by how many people will respond well to that, and won't give a shit about those who don't. Being yourself openly can create a wonderful positive feedback loop because people will like you for who you actually are.

Part of the reason people like those who are comfortable with themselves is that they actually create more accepting and affirming space for everybody.

Building up to this can come in little steps. Practice revealing more of yourself and your life to the most comfortable with themselves seeming people around you.

Also agree that rue72's response is great.
posted by Salamandrous at 11:27 AM on December 9, 2013

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