Should I change?
October 14, 2008 12:59 PM   Subscribe

Should I continue to be myself or change for the sake of acceptance?

All my life, I've had an eccentric sense of humor. People often don't get me and it's caused me to be cast out of certain groups.

Now, I've got a job. I want to socialize with my co-workers, but I get made fun of for being strange or annoying. I really don't mean to be so.

In the past, I did change my behavior to an extent. Looking back on those days, it's almost as if it's another person whose memories I remember. I inevitably slip back into the true me, but I get along real well with people when I'm not the real me.

So, I'm wondering whether it's worth it to consciously change my behavior so I might be more accepted or if it's better to just keep being me.

Any MeFites dealt with a similar conundrum?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hmm. Is your behavior who you really are?
posted by sondrialiac at 12:59 PM on October 14, 2008


I have a strange sense of humor as well, and I've learned to reign in my smart-ass responses and laughter at work. I do what needs to be done and that's it. What I do at home is another story entirely.

Don't give up your personality; just tone it down it down a bit. Think of it as being a hospital room, or a church, etc. You behave differently in different places. You just need to find the right rhythm so that you can interact with your co-workers and still feel comfortable with yourself.

Good luck!
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 1:05 PM on October 14, 2008


Your question is too subjective because we have no idea or examples of what your "real you" behavior is. But you can easily be strange and different without being rude or annoying.
posted by mattsweaters at 1:07 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


There is not enough information here, just FYI.

What is this eccentric sense of humor?

Is the behavior really eccentric or are you just being an a-hole? or is it both?

Feel free to email me.
posted by symbollocks at 1:07 PM on October 14, 2008


Everyone is different around different people. The person that you are around family is different than the person that you are around friends is different than the person you are around coworkers. There are some people that I can make really offensive jokes too and some people I can't.

You can retain certain aspects of "you"ness around different people. You just need to reign in certain aspects of your personality depending on who you're around.
posted by mikesch at 1:08 PM on October 14, 2008


I too am odd to some extent. And the simple fact is this: you can't just suddenly spring oddness on people. You MUST pretend to be normal and reign in every possible aspect of your oddness until people get to know you better. Otherwise you will be kept at arm's length. I believe it is socially required for everyone to be as vanilla as possible upon first meeting, and only after time can any individuality come through.

So yes, change, or at least act not like yourself when dealing with these co-workers.

As you work with them longer a degree of comfort will set in with some (not all) of your co-workers. With that, slowly open the valve of your strangeness and gauge reactions. If they react poorly then they wouldn't like the real you and you know you can probably never have a true friendship with that person. However, they may react positively and then you can SLOWLY open the valve further until you are able to be completely yourself among those select people.

But just saying "I am how I am and people should get used to me" is an attitude that only works for the extraordinarily talented eccentric people out there. Go rent the movie Grandma's Boy and see how an office treats a "genius" who tries to hide none of his eccentricities. While the movie is a comedy, the lesson is actually true there--if you don't even try to act normal then people will ostracize you. They only kept the strange guy around because he was deemed a "genius" who the company simply could not do without.
posted by arniec at 1:12 PM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


I agree with sondrialiac and mikesch - you seem to have a strange idea of what being true to yourself entails. Why do you view your sense of humor as something that everyone must "get", whether or not it is appropriate in a given situation?

If someone said that their very dirty sense of humor caused them to be kicked out of social situations for being inappropriate, would you advise them to go on telling sex jokes because that's who they are? I would hope not.

A person is not born with a set personality that remains the same their entire life. Everyone tries to improve themselves in some manner - whether it be by going to school, by learning social skills, by taking up a sport or hobby. You don't want to do a 180 on your personality and act in an alien and false manner, but you can take steps to work out problems that you have.

Perhaps you can give us some examples of what you do that bothers other people. I'm not attempting to advise you to act in a way that makes you uncomfortable, but if your behavior is impeding you from interacting with your coworkers and has been an obstacle your entire life there's probably something you could improve without becoming a completely different person.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:20 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's only one real you? What a weirdo.

Seriously, though, what I mean is that just because you act differently in different situations doesn't mean that the way you act in one situation is "the real you" and the others are not. I act differently depending on whether I'm alone, with family, with friends, at work, etc. All of them are equally the "real me"--I don't feel as if any of them are some sort of mask I'm putting on. That's not to say anything goes and that some conceivable ways I might act wouldn't be my true self, but merely acting in different ways does not imply that (at most) one of those ways is my true self and the others are not. None of those aspects--including how I act when I am alone--are all of who I am, but at the same time they are all equally the real me.

I inevitably slip back into the true me, but I get along real well with people when I'm not the real me.

It seems to me that part of "the real you" is someone who wants to get along real well with people--if it weren't, you wouldn't be asking this question. In some situations, you indulge that part of the real you that has an eccentric sense of humor. In other situations, you indulge the part of the real you that wants to get along with other people. Expressing the part of the real you that wants to get along is not a betrayal of your true nature. "Wants to get along" is just as much a valid part of your true personality as "has an eccentric sense of humor."

"I am large, I contain multitudes."--Walt Whitman
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:42 PM on October 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


All my life, I've had an eccentric sense of humor. People often don't get me and it's caused me to be cast out of certain groups.

Getting along with people requires a certain amount of discretion. Just because you think something is funny doesn't mean that it's appropriate to share in every circumstance. If you are being ostracized for your "sense of humor," then that usually means that you have a tendency to be inappropriate.

I want to socialize with my co-workers, but I get made fun of for being strange or annoying. I really don't mean to be so.

Sometimes socializing means being quiet and letting someone else talk. It also means getting to know the other people in the group and keeping your discourse appropriate to that circle. Not everyone is going to get your humor or appreciate all of your opinions, it's important to get to know what the field rules are before jumping in.

So, I'm wondering whether it's worth it to consciously change my behavior so I might be more accepted or if it's better to just keep being me.

You are always you. It is often very worthwhile to change your behavior - especially if it's keeping you from making friends.

I've been where you are. I was a very socially inept person when I was younger (largely due to my upbringing), and I had to learn the hard way that social expectations do not equal censorship or a personal rejection.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:44 PM on October 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


If you're what people might call "a real character" then you need to probably consider your work persona to be your secret identity. Your true nature will shine through here and there.

The problem with radiating yourselfness all day is that doing so is a way for you to affirm your identity, so you get an obvious benefit from it. It's everyone else who has to deal with you, however. You need to treat work as an environment in which you don't put anything out there that requires even one extra scintilla of extra tolerance or effort on the part of anyone else.

Really, that's what the rest of them are doing. Or don't you want to be constantly bombarded by your coworkers' opinions, obsessions, and observations? Frankly, I'd rather die.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 1:45 PM on October 14, 2008


This may not be precisely the same thing, but when I was in elementary school I had a very strange sense of humor and I worked hard on socializing myself so I'd be more accepted, and it mostly worked. When I look back at the person I was before I changed, I think I was extremely strange and just didn't understand other people. In other words, the fault was not really in other people, but in myself.

For example, I didn't always like the lunch my mom packed for me so I'd leave it in my locker, and forget it, at which point it would get moldy, and then occasionally I would put it in someone else's locker "as a joke." I did not understand the huge gross out factor this would have for other people. To me, it was kind of funny, but to others it was really disgusting. But it was hard for me to understand how other people perceived this.

I also had this strange habit of bowing at people I liked when I was "kidding around," or repeating strange catchphrases or punchlines from jokes that most other people would not understand. I know there was alot more strange stuff that I did, but I can't remember it now; perhaps I've blocked it. Anyway, again, to a regular person this sort of thing would come off as odd, but at the time I did not perceive it that way.

Anyway, I know you are older than I was when I made this change and I don't remember whatever epiphany I had that made me decide to change myself. But I do know that it's possible to do this if you have looked hard at yourself and decided you didn't really like certain behaviors that much. I didn't have to change myself in ways that stifled my creativity or made me less likeable to myself -- the changes in fact increased my self esteem and I believe made me a better person. I was still smart and creative afterwards, won writing awards, went to a good college, etc -- I was just able to fit in better.

As others here have said, it's hard to advise you whether change is really necessary because there is a full spectrum of what your self-described "eccentric sense of humor" could mean. But if your sense of humor is off color or overly sexual or too familiar with people you don't know very well, I think you will do yourself a favor by reigning things in. If this is so I think you are breaking a number of social conventions in ways that generally make people uncomfortable, and you will feel more rewarded personally if you can interact with people in ways that they appreciate.

Alternatively, is it simply a matter of people never getting your jokes because they are too obscure -- based on references to things they're not familiar with? In that case there may be nothing especially wrong with you except that you're not socializing with the right people and not aiming your humor at an audience that will understand you, which is bound to frustrate both you and everyone else. In the latter case I'd try to find a set of friends with similar interests to you, and lay off the references with people who are unlikely to get them.

Good luck!
posted by onlyconnect at 2:05 PM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Sometimes being made fun of is a sign of acceptance in the group. Are you getting made fun of, or being avoided?

If you're being avoided, then yes, I strongly suggest you change your behavior. (N.B.: as said above, changing your behavior is *not* the same thing as changing yourself). Especially if the complaint is annoyance. Being wierd is one thing; being so social incompetent that you annoy others is not ok when you're in a work environment.

Also as mentioned before, it's unlikely you're smart enough to get away with it, because most people aren't. Even those that are shouldn't; it's not your coworkers' job to deal with your social ineptness (up to a point). But it's very likely you *are* smart enough to keep your strangeness, but stop annoying other people.

Find out what you're doing that's annoying- do you follow people around? Miss social cues to stop a conversation or switch topics? Bring up topics no one around is interested in? Since you didn't give us much to go on, you'll have to ask the people around you; find a coworker you can trust and ask what's up.

Then, fix it. Either in your head (if they're making fun of you because they're welcoming you to the group) or externally (because you are actually annoying your coworkers).
posted by nat at 2:38 PM on October 14, 2008


Do you value the company of other people more than you value being true to yourself?

I too am the odd one out in a lot of situations, but I don't compromise for anyone. People accept me as I am, or not at all. For me, it's more important to be true than to put on a face and pretend to be someone else. Because I'll never live up to everyone else's expectations.

"The ones who mind don't matter, and the ones who matter don't mind".
posted by Solomon at 2:40 PM on October 14, 2008


Odd, jokey people come off as trying too hard (and falling flat). Because they don't fit into the mold, they are perceived as unpredictable, which triggers discomfort and sometimes fear in people. No one knows how to react so it's just easier to shun the person. Most people respond best to some level of predictability; this is why we have such social rituals as white lies ("Hi, how are you?" "I'm fine, you?"). Following these rituals makes people feel comfortable with you, and it needn't compromise "who you really are." I might like to walk around naked at home, but I don't do it in public out of respect for others.

Remember that it takes (at least) two people for a social interaction, and it's up to you to pay attention to their cues and respect their personality as much as they should respect yours. Because your personality is different from most of your cohorts, it's more incumbent on you to pay attention to their signals. It can be a lot of effort, sure, but it's like anything else - you evaluate the benefits and costs and act accordingly. Presumably there are days you don't feel like getting out of bed and going to work, but you make the effort because you don't want to be poor. You can try to fit in and have people like you, or you can express your oddball personality anytime you feel like it, and be shunned. Which is more valuable to you? Only you can decide.
posted by desjardins at 2:43 PM on October 14, 2008


I too am the odd one out in a lot of situations, but I don't compromise for anyone. People accept me as I am, or not at all.

I disagree with this. If I am the only English speaker in a non-English speaking country, it's incumbent upon me to learn the language. It's not the other people's responsibility to learn mine. Further, learning their language doesn't negate my knowledge of English.
posted by desjardins at 2:46 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Do you like who you are? I have a peculiar sense of humor. At work, and in some groups, I tend to test people to see how much odd humor they tolerate and behave accordingly. My good friends either get or at least tolerate my peculiarities, as I do theirs.

I made a conscious effort to get rid of unkind humor. I rarely direct sarcasm at people. I don't like making fun of people, and I don't like being made fun of. Are you sure they're not being mean?
posted by theora55 at 3:05 PM on October 14, 2008


desjardins' example is a great one because speaking to people in a language they do not understand - and which you know they do not understand - is no different than telling jokes or engaging in humor you know people don't appreciate.

There's nothing wrong with having a different sense of humor, but your question doesn't really make sense if that's all that's at work here. If you're repeatedly doing and saying things that you find funny but nobody else does - to the point where it annoys people and causes them to find you less likable - that's got nothing to do with your sense of humor and everything to do with communication skills and civil behavior.
posted by phearlez at 3:07 PM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


I agree with what people have said about being able to ascertain if you are just an oddball or if you are, in fact, being unkind or rude.
That said, I am an oddball myself and I spent a good chunk of my life being miserable by trying to be quiet, not talk or otherwise act in an unnatural way when I am in fact a sociable and chatty person - I just didn't know how to really channel it appropriately. I absolutely love what arniec said:

I too am odd to some extent. And the simple fact is this: you can't just suddenly spring oddness on people. You MUST pretend to be normal and reign in every possible aspect of your oddness until people get to know you better. Otherwise you will be kept at arm's length. I believe it is socially required for everyone to be as vanilla as possible upon first meeting, and only after time can any individuality come through.

So yes, change, or at least act not like yourself when dealing with these co-workers.

As you work with them longer a degree of comfort will set in with some (not all) of your co-workers. With that, slowly open the valve of your strangeness and gauge reactions. If they react poorly then they wouldn't like the real you and you know you can probably never have a true friendship with that person. However, they may react positively and then you can SLOWLY open the valve further until you are able to be completely yourself among those select people.


That is exactly what I would have said if I were eloquent enough. I had to learn how to hold back a bit when I first met people. I don't look at this as "not being myself" - I look at it as giving people a chance to get to know me in a normal, casual way before I show them (little by little) my eccentricities. I think there is a fairly narrow standard of what is normal and acceptable behavior in society and if you adhere to this in the beginning, people will let you into their lives and once you are a part of someone's life, they will generally allow you more leeway to stray outside of these social norms than they would if you were still a stranger and they feel no sense of friendship, loyalty or kindness towards you. I sometimes think that people aren't always sure what to make of me when they are first getting to know me, but once they get to know me, I think they really start to like me and I have developed deep and natural friendships with most of those people. On the odd occasion, I have had someone step away from me once they see this side of me, which is okay because then I know what I'm dealing with, but I'd say for the most part people still like me and accept me, even once they get to really know me!

Good luck. You may find, as I did, that once you get to know people on a deeper level, they're just as much of an oddball as you are, they've just learned how to hide it a little better.
posted by triggerfinger at 3:40 PM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Any MeFites dealt with a similar conundrum?

All the time. But people define my sense of humor as offensive more than odd (I get that sometimes, but not as much as the former). People either react really positively or really negatively (lost friendships and death theats, seriously). As a result, I'm very careful about what I say now.

I think the best thing to do is just tone it down for a while. Yes, you should be yourself. But, you are more than just your sense of humor. Show other sides of yourself, before you bring out the jokes and one-liners. Maybe your sense of humor will be accepted better.
posted by sixcolors at 4:44 PM on October 14, 2008


At work, I tend to fall at the intersection of several aforementioned possibilities ("so skilled we tolerate her", "weird, but in a good way", and "now you're just being obnoxious"). I am careful keep an eye on how most people are reacting to me because, like it or not, that's eventually going to feed into performance appraisals and the potential for promotion (or, worse case scenario, just keeping my job). If everyone around me is acting like I'm being a jerk, I just shut up for a while and keep my nose to the grindstone because even if they are all wrong, there's still no way for me to win.

I'm guessing your work is a similar situation. "Socializing" is all well and good but, really, your first priority it to get the work done - and to do that, you have to be able to interact with your coworkers. If this blander "work-you" doesn't feel completely "true", well, just suck it up and deal with it because that's part of what you're being paid to do.

In the rest of your life - including, potentially, down-time at work - you have a lot more leeway. Change your behavior if you are in fact being an asshole to people you'd like to get along with, but otherwise, there's no reason you can't be "you" when someone isn't paying you to be more "normal".
posted by teremala at 6:43 PM on October 14, 2008


If the "real you" is rude or keeps teasing people to the point where they are getting hurt or angry, definitely change that permanently. It's wrong to have fun at someone else's expense. If it's just a matter of having an offbeat sense of humour, I wouldn't worry much about it. I do myself, and one thing I've learned is to rein myself in until people get a chance to know me a bit and I get a chance to scope them out and figure out if they'll like my sense of humour or not.
posted by orange swan at 6:59 PM on October 14, 2008


I learned the hard way to dial down my dry, absurd, sarcastic humor at the work place because people thought I was weird. It helps to keep in mind that most people you work with don't have the same points of reference as you do. They haven't read the same books, seen the same obscure movies or find the same kinds of things funny. Perhaps many of your co-workers enjoy guffawing to comedians who make lots of fart jokes or use puppets to promote xenophobia. You don't want to waste your wit and hilarity on them. I'm assuming you aren't being offensive in your humor? If you are, you'll want to re-evaluate that.

Save showing your true colors and hilariousness when you are with friends that understand and appreciate it, but take it easy at first, don't play all your personality cards at once.
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:24 PM on October 14, 2008


You can tone down how you act around some people without fundamentally changing who you are. This is what the majority of people do every day. It's just part of learning to socialize.

Furthermore, often co-workers are not going to have a lot in common with you. Most jobs don't choose people with similar interests aside from whatever the work entails, and many people aren't even interested in the work they're doing. Using your co-workers as a yardstick for judging yourself is a bit misguided, frankly.

When you leave work at the end of the day you ought to have friends that share your interests or quirks, and you can act more freely around those people. But worrying about co-workers is pointless. If they think you're weird, okay, whatever. No one is forcing you to be friends with them. Tone down whatever it is about you that they don't appreciate -- not because those parts of you are objectively "bad," but because everyone does that to keep things running smoothly and respectfully. All that's necessary is to get along with them, not to be friends.
posted by Nattie at 7:01 AM on October 15, 2008


I 'naturally' have a very baudy, raunchy, profanity-filled sense of humour and manner of speech. For whatever reason, and despite the fact that I know it often makes me appear trashy or uneducated (neither being the case), it is what I slip into easily. Call it overcompensation for bring brought up in an overly cerebral family. But I know it isn't appropriate a whole lot of places, especially the work place, so I adjust it, tone it back. I have to in order survive and be a socially functioning human being. On my off hours with my friends just hanging out I allow myself to speak however I wish (so long as we aren't in a place where I could be over heard swearing and making raunchy jokes by children or people who would be offended). I don't think my recognizing there is a time and place for everything makes me an less 'me'. It just makes me socially smart and aware.

Think of it this way. Lets say you are naturally a really burpy person and enjoy a good burp. (my sister is this way, FYIW) Now, you wouldn't burp out loud at work, would you? You might think it was funny but it would probably bother your co-workers. But when you are home with your friends who don't care or who are amused by it, you have no problem burping up a storm because it is much more appropriate. This is possibly the same thing as your sense of humour. There is a time an place for everything.
posted by gwenlister at 8:38 AM on October 15, 2008


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