I was 10 years old, and I couldn’t understand why the kids in my new school were laughing at me. I’d never been the one that was laughed at.
I spent the first 10 years of my life on the East Coast of the United States of America.
In the US, I wasn’t considered one of the cool kids at school, but I was never picked on either. I had a good group of friends, and I got along well with most of the other children.
When I was 10 years old, we moved to Paris, France, over the summer. My parents wanted us to have a French education and be closer to our extended family.
They sent me to a strict private school.
On the first day, I immediately noticed something wasn’t right. It only took a few hours for my fellow students to decide that I was a weirdo. And in school, weirdoes are picked on.
My classmates would make fun of my accent and found a lovely nickname for me quite quickly. They called me “L’amerloc,” which is similar to calling a French person “froggy.” Before knowing anything about me, they collectively decided that I was a caricature of the typical American. It wasn’t pleasant.
I kept thinking to myself: “I’m not a weirdo. I’m not that guy. I wish my American friends could tell them that I’m one of the good guys.”
A life-changing breakthrough.
Things could have gone downhill from there, but instead, my self-confidence saved me.
I didn’t feel threatened, and surprisingly (for a ten-year-old) never tried to change my personality in order to fit in.
My mother still talks about watching her kid confidently leave home wearing clothes that few dared to wear. I chose them based on how comfortable or adapted to the weather they were.
Now that I have more perspective, I realize that my strength came from outside of school.
My parents had pushed me to pursue various extracurricular activities, and I had gotten good at a few of them.
If a day at school didn’t go the way I wanted it to, it didn’t really matter to me. As soon as class was over, I’d head to the dojo to practice martial arts. I would always learn something new or get pushed outside of my conform zone which would make me feel good about myself.
Deep down, I knew that my situation as “the weirdo” was going to be temporary.
This uncommon assurance I had at school gave me the opportunity to study my classmates in a way most children never do.
Experiencing school from someone else’s perspective so early in my life gave me a degree of empathy that I’ve cherished and nurtured ever since.
The lesson I’d like to share with you is one I apply to my life as much as possible.
Being good at something will build confidence that overlaps into all areas of life.
Get good at an activity that isn’t linked to your day to day.
You’ll always be able to rely on this skill to feel good about yourself and boost your self-confidence, regardless of how your day went.
(I like to choose activities away from screens that will either engage my body or my creative mind.)
As the school year progressed, I soon moved away from my weirdo status back to the position I was most comfortable in, navigating from group to group.