I see it coming. Another confused stare. Then, inevitably, a wariness. Perhaps a sense of resentment creeping in. All I've said is that I don't eat dairy. They haven't even begun to learn about me yet. Sit down, its going to take a minute.
Lets face it, humans love 'normality'. They feel most comfortable when people are predictable. This is safe. People know how to respond this. Even I feel this way sometimes. However, my life has always been that bit different...
The age of 13 was a pivotal one for me. My family had moved (we did this fairly often) and I was dreading starting a new school again. This time, however, I had another option. I could be home-schooled. My parents, who were both teachers, had already started home-schooling my 3 younger brothers. They weren't thriving in school so my parents wanted to give them this option. I was slower making this transition as I enjoyed school. However, I had seen how my brothers were enjoying it and decided it was worth a go. Long story short, I flourished. Unnoticed by me, my confidence had been stripped away by the school system. I fully believed that subjects like maths and science were beyond me. I was too stupid. However, with a little patience my confidence slowly started to grow. Even more surprisingly, I found that science captivated me. Before this, my most memorable experience in science was burning my fingertips on an improperly set up Bunsen burner and being thoroughly humiliated for this. Bunsen burners aside, I found that I adored biology. It fascinated me. So much so that I went on to obtain a Master of Science in Endangered Species Recovery. I have no doubt in my mind that this wouldn't be possible if I had not been home-schooled.
This experience changed my viewfinder forever. Nothing was a given and I questioned everything. My career, as a wildlife conservationist, is far from typical. Unlike many careers, money is not the driver. Much of my early time in this industry was actually unpaid. This career has led to weird and wonderful experiences. I have lived on wildlife reserves in remote highland cottages, seemingly haunted farmhouses (I swear the attic door opened by itself...) and, strangest of all, a historic tower on a tiny isolated seabird island with no running water (read about this here). All far from luxurious. Beyond this, I have slept on forest floors in the middle of remote forests, been attacked by more than one bird species and spent a remarkably large time with wildlife poo. Do I ever question my life choices? Uh, yes! However, deep down I know that this was the only career that could fulfil me. I wouldn't have it any other way.
The questions have increased as I got older. Three years ago, after taking the time to learn about the horror of the meat and dairy industry, I decided to become vegan overnight. As an environmentalist and animal lover, this was really my only option. I'm lucky that the world is far more accepting of veganism nowadays. However, as any vegan will tell you, I am still considered a freak and extremist to the wider society. The backlash from this initial decision startled me. Do people really care that much about what I eat? Even my mother wasn't exactly enthusiastic when I made this announcement, although has since come around and is now vegan herself (proud daughter moment). Its of course more subliminal than this. By me actively avoiding certain foods, people become confronted with their own life choices. This is not always pleasant. Hence, unjustified anger with furious glances when I politely refuse a chocolate biscuit. Glance away, I shall continue to smile serenely and gain hope that now, more often than not, there is a vegan biscuit option that I fully relish.
I mean, what could be worse than a vegan? How about a minimalist? Again, by curbing the trend I am deemed an outcast. I have fully embraced minimalism this year as I have welcomed the simplicity that this lifestyle brings. It aligns beautifully with my values as I reduce my footprint on this earth. At this time of year, I've noticed how odd I must seem when I see Instagram photos of homes bursting with Christmas decorations, covering every surface, and mountains of wrapped gifts. My single string of fairy lights and no present rule seems quite a contrast all of a sudden (read more about my minimal Christmas here).
On the face of it, I haven't chosen the easiest of lives. Being the 'odd one out' can be a challenge. However, I have found that there are two essential methods that sustain me -
Know your why. These more 'extreme' life choices require a strong sense of self. Understand your values and embrace what motivates you. Practise the ability to communicate this confidently and concisely so you have your answers ready and can move on. People will stop asking eventually.
Find your community. In the digital age, we are lucky that this has become far more achievable. My social media feeds are full of nature inspiration and sustainable living. I feel so welcome here. Sometimes, you need this reassurance that you are not alone. Find your tribe and let them lift you up.
So what now? For me, I know this is just the beginning. I'll not settle for what's 'normal' if it doesn't suit me. Going forwards, I have no intention of having children. It saddens me in this day in age that women still have to justify this decision. I am also unlikely to have a mortgage as I have a secret plan up my sleeve which I will be revealing in the New Year. Watch this space...
The questions may never go away and I may never be classed as normal. Shockingly, I find that I don't care. I have lived a lifetime of this. And I have thrived. These choices mean that I get to live my authentic life every single day. I feel totally free and content that my life is my own. It turns out that no amount of sarcastic comments can get in my way...