When I hear the word “eccentric,” the first image that pops into my head is an old lady with 16 cats, who spends her time weaving baskets out of hair from her hairbrush that she keeps stashed under her bed. Or maybe a billionaire with a collection of antique dental tools and a penchant for salsa dancing with his dog while wearing a tutu.
In other words, I’ve always equated eccentricity with bizarre, weird, or quirky personality traits.
But one psychologist has made a study of eccentricity, and in looking at his work, I’ve come to see eccentricity in a different light. On his website, “Celebrating Eccentrics,” David Weeks lists 25 traits eccentric people share in common in descending order of importance.
Take a look at the top 10:
1. Enduring nonconformity
3. Strongly motivated by an exceedingly powerful curiosity and related exploratory behavior
4. An enduring and distinct feeling of differentness from others
5. Idealism, wanting to make the world a better place and the people in it happier
6. Happily obsessed with a number of long-lasting preoccupations (usually about five or six)
7. Intelligent, in the upper fifteen per cent of the population on tests of intelligence
8. Opinionated and outspoken, convinced of being right and that the rest of the of the world is out of step with them
10. Not necessarily in need of reassurance or reinforcement from the rest of society
Well, I’ll be danged. With 9 out of those 10 traits, I think I am eccentric. Does that mean I’m one step away from becoming a hair-weaving cat lady, though?
Not necessarily. Eccentric people are as diverse as they come. Some have interests that fall outside of what one might consider “normal,” but then again, most eccentric people see “normal” as a totally relative and not particularly important descriptor.
When I look at my life, I can see the ways in which eccentricity takes the main stage. I’ve made a lot of choices that fall outside of the “mainstream” and don’t care one iota about what society thinks of those choices. We didn’t send our oldest child to kindergarten 11 years ago and have been homeschooling ever since. Our family took an entire year and lived like nomads, traveling around the country. We’ve made a lot of what I realize in hindsight were unconventional choices. They’ve just never felt all that odd since I don’t put a whole lot of stock in “normal.”
So yeah, I’ve got Nos. 1 and 10 on that list covered. Creative? Oh, definitely. Curiosity? Insatiable — I don’t understand how anyone ever gets bored. Idealism? Check. Opinionated and outspoken? Mmm, sometimes in real life, but definitely in my writing.
The only one I’m not sure about is “Happily obsessed with a number of long-lasting preoccupations” — unless coffee and chocolate count as a preoccupations. But then again, No. 11 on the list is “Unusual eating habits and living arrangements.” I have no eating schedule whatsoever, and we’ve moved no less than a dozen times in 18 years (not including the nomadic year, where we lived in a different city every month).
I’d say, according to this list, “eccentric” probably — definitely — fits the bill.
The awesome thing about discovering that you can own the “eccentric” label is that you can own the eccentric label, baby! Woohoo! Think about those eccentric old ladies with their big, colorful hats and mismatched socks. They DGAF about anything that anyone thinks. They do their thing and live their life and don’t give two shakes about anyone trying to tell them differently.
Most eccentric types do that instinctively anyway, but now we have this simple, one-word descriptor for the way we are. Instead of trying to explain to people why we don’t connect with many of the norms of society, why we don’t feel the least bit compelled to live our lives according to arbitrary societal standards, and that we are happy to do our own thing our own way, we can just say, “Well, I’m eccentric,” and leave it at that.
Now, that is what I call living your best life.
That term isn’t just for quirky hermits and flamboyant geriatrics anymore. If the list above describes you, rock on with your eccentric, amazing self. And welcome to the club! Let’s get together long enough for a solidarity fist bump, then let’s go our own way and do our own thing, okay?