She had me at “weird.” I couldn’t wait to dig into Jennifer Romolini’s brand new book, Weird In a World That’s Not: A Career Guide for Misfits, F*ckups, and Failures. After all, who among us hasn’t at some point felt totally out of place, especially in a work setting?
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Jennifer about how the book came to be and some of her top takeaways.
Let’s start with what’s on everyone’s mind: Define “weird” as you are using it, and how do people recognize this quality in themselves and their coworkers?
I think the simplest way to define “weird” in relation to my book is to replace it with “awkward” — though “Awkward In a World That’s Not” doesn’t really have the same ring. Weird in this case means people who often feel out of sync and out of step with the world around them — maybe they are socially or physically clumsy, blush a lot, overthink everything or feel anxious in situations where everyone seems to feel fine.
I’ve carried around “weirdness” my whole life — I crash into walls, tear up when I shouldn’t, carry around a purse that is a really a bag of trash — but when I became a manager, I realized there were more people like me than I thought.
I started to identify this weirdness in my employees, such as how they couldn’t speak up for themselves, or it took them forever to get to their point because they were overthinking everything. Or sometimes they thought-policed me and their coworkers and created problems that didn’t really exist. As a boss, I spent a lot of time helping my employees get over the fact that they were getting in their own way, and that’s how this book was born.
Do you think that “weird” is a bit of a generational thing, perhaps that younger generations are more tolerant of people who are quirky or unique?
I think that work in general has become more emotional and intimate, and workplaces are certainly far less formal than they were, say, in my parents’ generation. So as we relax that formality, there’s more room to be yourself, to say how you feel and ask for what you want.
To their credit, millennials believe they are entitled to mentorship and fair treatment at work, and they demand to be heard (anecdotally, my millennial employees request meetings with bosses at least three times more than I ever did) — and that allows them to reveal more of who they genuinely are, and who they are is often weird.
A hot buzzword in today’s workplace is “authentic.” How does the desire for authenticity play into how people present and see themselves?
There’s a disconnect right now between the self we present on social media channels — these carefully curated online personas, this idea of turning yourself into a perfect “brand” — and who we are face-to-face in real life.
I think that’s part of the reason everyone is getting so weird. We invest so much time creating these online personas that when we’re out in the world, we have this fear and anxiety of not living up to that persona or being exposed as awkward or uncool, or lacking that Instagrammable life or high-brow shelfie.
I think we’re comparing ourselves to other people and making ourselves miserable over it more than ever before. I generally hate buzzwords because they’re overused and become meaningless, but I do think it’s more important than ever to know and accept who you truly are and approach your life honestly with loads of self-reflection. That’s all authenticity is: Knowing yourself and having the courage to be that self, day in and out.
What’s your favorite story of someone embracing their “weirdness” at work and having it come off really successfully?
Whenever I run an editorial brainstorm session, I’m always most delighted to see people really go for it and present an original or offbeat idea they love but are afraid other people won’t. In that moment, they usually reveal something about themselves, because they get animated or emotional and, yes, sometimes awkward and odd in the process. More often than not, these are the stories I take. Pitching is terrifying, but it’s so much more satisfying when you give it everything you have, and that usually requires exposing yourself a bit and being vulnerable.
What is the one thing you’d want a “weird” person to know about work, and on the flip side, one thing you think that person’s manager should know?
Fellow weirds: No one knows how weird it feels inside your head. No matter how heart-thumpingly anxious and awkward you feel, it’s private, and it’s yours to own. Absolutely no one is scrutinizing you the way you’re scrutinizing yourself.
For managers, be patient with the misfits! Encourage them to work hard and help them feel seen and known. I guarantee they’ll pay you back with smart work and loyalty in spades.
All right, you know what’s next: What’s one “weird” trait you’ve learned to embrace at work? Share in the “judgement-free” comment zone below!
Lindsey Pollak is the leading expert on millennials and the multigenerational workplace, trusted by global companies, universities and the world’s top media outlets. A New York Times bestselling author and keynote speaker, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her presentations have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.