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That “I Don’t Belong Here” Feeling

Art Deco Ball

“Right this way, your table’s waiting.”
Used under Creative Commons license; photo by Kate a la Mode

The first time you go to a black-tie affair, especially if you’re there on a freebie, because of a barter or because you did volunteer work or because you’re somebody’s guest, you may feel awkward and out of place. You’re not used to dressing up; you may be embarrassed that your car isn’t as new or upscale as the other guests; you may worry that your clothes aren’t fancy designer labels or the height of fashion. That’s normal. Don’t let it stop you. One of my personal rules to live by is “any time you do something because of fear, you’re probably wrong.” Fear is the enemy; don’t let it make your choices for you. If you want to go to the ball, go to the ball, even if you don’t have a pumpkin coach and six white horses.

You may be surprised to learn how many rich people drive ordinary cars; some of them drive really old and battered cars, on purpose. The only ones who really worry about it are the ones who feel as out of place as you do. You don’t want to talk to those people anyway; they’re insecure, and that makes them judgmental. Judgmental people aren’t fun. Relax. You’re there to have a good time, and it’s fun to play dress-up, it’s fun to enjoy creative people exercising their talents, it’s fun to chat with people who like the same things you do. So relax and have fun already.

We’ve all heard the saying, “judge not, lest you be judged.” I have my own interpretation of that; I noticed a long time ago that the most critical and judgmental people, the ones who always have a comment about how others live and dress and entertain and act and keep house, those people are extremely concerned about the impression they make. They believe that everyone else is watching them and judging them every bit as harshly as they judge others. They worry about looking foolish. They can’t ever do anything fun–no karaoke, no silly Halloween costumes–because they are certain that some neighbor or co-worker or random stranger is waiting to pounce on their “improper” behavior and thereby prove that they are somehow unfit for their job-community-family-status. To me, these people lead sad lives of self-condemnation.

Some people think that the way to combat the “I don’t belong here” feeling is by challenging the social structure; the guy who wears a t-shirt and jeans to a formal affair, for example. He thinks he’s being cool and showing that he’s a rebel, but he’s really just confirming that he doesn’t belong there. It really doesn’t work, and it’s not necessary. The standards are not so high or rigid that the only possible response is to try to tear them down. It’s not hard at all to dress appropriately for even the most formal affair; you don’t have to spend a fortune on a designer wardrobe, just wear the right kind of clothing. If the event calls for suit and tie, then suit up. It doesn’t have to be Armani, it just has to look presentable.

If you have a chance to go to a fancy party or an art show or concert or stay at a swanky resort, go and have fun, dress appropriately and don’t worry about whether it’s good enough. Act like you belong there and you’ll belong there.

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Jim

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