In the famous Christmas song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Rudolph turns an oddity into an asset and goes from being an outcast to a leader. In other real life cases, like Steven Hawking or Lady Gaga, individuals with potentially ostracizing characteristics can hit it out of the park when people realize that they are special.
It’s great to see quirky eccentrics tackle conventions and succeed in disrupting them. But how about the rest of us, whose singularities aren’t as marketable? It's hard enough to earn, preserve, and grow money when you generally fall within the range of “normal.” What if you – or your child – has a peculiarity or in some way isn’t like everyone else? How can you help make that difference become an asset or at least mitigate the problems it might cause?
Where you live has a big impact on whether you fit in to the community and if your quirks excite or repel others. A famous Twilight Zone episode called “Eye of the Beholder” features a beautiful woman living on a planet where everyone else has a pig face. They keep trying plastic surgery to fix her, but her face never gets “right.” Finally, she moves to a place where others without pig faces live – and finds happiness. If there’s an area where you would fit in better, make a plan to go there if possible. Moving isn’t “giving up,” nor does it mean you are repressing your true self. You will earn a higher salary in an area where you are wanted than in a place where you aren’t. The kind of breaks and deals that fall to the more conventional will be offered to you because you are more like the people who offer those things.
Having friends is important at any age. Sometimes people who are little different have trouble connecting with others. When you find it difficult to create relationships, keep in mind that the definition of friendship doesn’t just mean people your age who you hang out with. You can cultivate friendships with people who are older or younger than you are. A friend might live far away but connect with you over the phone or internet. If your child has trouble finding friends at school, you can help him or her connect with friends from Scouts, church, or other place as well as finding comfort in cousins – just because you are related to someone doesn’t mean they can’t be your best friend (Hi, Sis!). Social connectedness is scientifically associated with physical and financial health, so it’s important to avoid isolation to maximize both.
Giving to others and putting others’ needs before your own invariably improves your outlook on life and often your financial well-being. It seems ironic, but giving makes you richer. The Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey shows that people who give charitably make significantly more money than those who don't because giving stimulates the brain in a way that is good for us. Results include higher salaries and loftier titles in part because people are elevated by others into positions of leadership after they are witnessed behaving charitably. Shyness, depression, lack of confidence, anxiety, and other side effects of being different dissipate when you put others’ needs first. It’s hard to be sad about yourself when you are up on a roof building a Habitat for Humanity house, reading to toddlers over at Helping Hands, or belting out hymns at the old folks home. And volunteer groups welcome all comers, so a handicap is less likely to deter your participation.
Find the Helpers
When you are different, it can seem like everyone is against you. And sometimes, people are. Let’s face it...good-looking, well-connected, “normal” people get better grades, higher pay raises, warnings instead of speeding tickets, bigger samples at Sephora, and a host of other deals that save them money and hassles. Impairments of any kind can cost you. How do you lessen the impact? Fred Rogers, of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood,” said that his mother comforted him as a scared little boy watching the world’s unkindness by saying “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” Although some people may be repelled by differences and be unkind as a result, many others welcome and even seek out quirkiness. Look past the people with disapproving scowls and pursed lips who tell you “no.” Seek out helpers, and ask them for advice, help, guidance, and breaks.
Regardless of your differences, you can live a happier, healthier, financially improved life by following these guidelines. C.W. Gortner, in his Ghost Ship article “Where Will Our Eccentrics Go?,” points out that “every one of our celebrated artists is celebrated today because they never ceased to fight for the right to create, persevering against all odds. It’s what they do. When did we stop thinking this is a good thing?...When we lose our artists, we lose more than their art....we lose our thinkers, our changers, our rebels, and our conscience. We lose our passion. If we don’t support the eccentric misfit artists around us, what does that say about us?”
Kathryn Hauer, the “Financial Lady,” is a Certified Financial Planner ™, adjunct professor at Aiken Technical College, and financial literacy educator who wrote "Financial Advice for Blue Collar America." Her book discusses basic concepts of money including insurance and taxes, financial traps to avoid, how to pay for college and tech school, and the bright future ahead for blue collar careers. Learn more about ways to improve your financial health and safety at her website.