On finding your tribe (or being ‘that guy’ and accepting dislike)

Without intending to, I’ve attained “that guy” status in med school. It’s hard to contain my love for float tanks, yoga, and mindfulness. I’ve spent so much of my life repressing my weirdness that now it blooms with excess vigor. Some folks dig it, some folks don’t; once I accept that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, then I can start to build my tribe.

In conversation, you can hide details but you can’t hide dislike— body language, tone, and overall engagement in conversation don’t lie. The realization comes slowly; maybe they’re having a stressful day and don’t realize the vibes that they are putting out? But, if you collate and correlate enough data points together, then you have yourself a trend— sometimes people have bad days and sometimes they simply do not like me.

Throughout the first weeks of school, everyone puts their best foot forward— I want so desperately to be liked that I put myself into social situations that I would normally avoid, such as loud bars or sporting events. This desire to have others like us and accept us creates a mirage, a fake persona that does not reflect our true nature.

This persona is generally friendly, easily likable but hard to love. We wear them for first impressions; once the daily grind begins, we have less stamina to maintain the illusion. As life flows, we cease trying to be someone else and we become ourselves more fully.

As we transition to our true selves, we network a web of friends into a tribe. As we inhabit our skin, we find less need to wear a mask and a growing desire for fewer but deeper relationships— our tribe is who we rely upon when things get tough and we need help. We’ll somehow make it through four years of medical education with these folks and it’s essential that we create a strong peer group. The people with whom we’ll stay in contact throughout our residency and careers, despite distance and differing paths.

Our tribe knows our true self. They know our weirdness and they embrace us for it, not despite it. The spice that I bring to my tribe is my unique flavor of weirdness, because I am the only me. Have you ever heard a Tibetan singing bowl in person? It’s a trip, and a recording just simply does not compare. Have you heard of float tanks, or sensory deprivation therapy? Imagine orbiting Earth or returning to the womb, and you’ll have a good idea of an hour-long float sesh. Are you on #teamnotanline, too? Your whole body needs vitamin D, especially the area covered up by underwear!

Am I proud of being ‘that guy’? Just a little. I like to imagine that by being the weirdest person in the room, I give everyone else permission to rise high their freak flags and dance underneath. So, I’ll let the haters hate: if I’m palatable to everyone, then I’m not pushing any boundaries, and their reaction to me says more about them than it does about myself.

And my tribe? The weird ones, the misfits, and the ones who feel like we need to hide. The ones who think our strength comes from the masks that we wear, rather than what beauty lies underneath. The mirage implies that our true selves can be hurt or damaged in the light of day, when in fact this barrier to the rest of the world causes us to die a slow death. A funny and tragic paradox, because once we feel safe enough to put down our masks and open up to the sun, our similarities might surprise us.

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