If you're not the lead dog, the view never changes.
Updated: Jan 12
Like every other kid hitting middle school, I had a rough time because I did not fit in. Anywhere. I know - it’s hard to believe that this amazing package of coolness had issues being accepted by others, but I totally did.
It started in middle school, when my best friend of two years decided to hang out with the girls that went to her church instead of with me. My parents, who either felt sleeping in on Sundays or were still recovering from their Catholic upbringings didn’t attend a church. I thought maybe if I went to church with my friend, she’d like me better. Nope! That backfired. I clearly lacked essential church qualities, like “believing in the fear of God,” “blindly accepting church doctrine,” and “not asking Sunday School teachers how they knew God was male.”
I didn’t fit in with the popular kids, because I wasn’t popular. I wasn’t popular for a lot of reasons. I’d like to say it was because my parents wouldn’t buy me Nike shoes, Izod polos, or real Jordache jeans, but even if I had those, I still wore big glasses, had a crazy ass perm, and more metal on my teeth than most 57 Chevys. It was probably just as well I wasn’t allowed to go to the Berea Roll N Bowl either. Why suffer more humiliation than necessary?
I didn’t fit in with the burnouts, because I didn’t smoke or do drugs. I didn’t fit in with the jocks, because I didn’t play sports. I didn’t fit in with the marching band folks, because I played piano and between you and me…that’s a heavy instrument to lug around a football field. And then…while my friends were playing with friends after school, I was working at the family business. Not a lot of 16 year olds walked into their first job interview with 8 years work experience, business cards and a professionally printed resume! The family business was a printing company.
In seventh grade, I met Todd, who would later become my boyfriend and high school prom date. Even that relationship was different, because he didn’t really fit in either. I found out in the 90’s that he found out he was gay in the 80’s, and you just didn’t talk about being gay in the 80’s. He needed to look “straight,” I needed to look “taken,” it all worked.
While I’m going through all of this, I kept telling my parents that I was not fitting in. I was having trouble making friends at school. My father hands me a copy of “How to Win Friends And Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. Time tested principles…and they definitely helped me in the adult world. However - a book full of social skills further estranged me from my already estranged Generation X classmates. I’m watching the movies The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and not relating to any of it. I did identify with being an exotic dancer by day and a welder by night (Flashdance), but knew that deep down if I was a Sweathog on Welcome Back Kotter, I was clearly Arnold Horshack’s geeky little sister.
In all fairness…I came by this honestly. My parents didn’t exactly fit in many places either. They collected antique cars and were always off somewhere in the antique cars. My mother loved musical theater, and my father loved stock car races. I spent Friday nights listening to Oliver! The Musical. Saturday nights I heard other adults screaming “Turn mother f*cker turn!” at Sandusky Speedway. My father finally realized I was floundering, and took me aside. He said “You know Traci, I know you’re having trouble fitting in, but just remember, if you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes.”
OMG. Did my father just suggest to me that I was determined to live a life staring at dog butt? I started thinking about it. If I was the lead dog, I’d be in front leading the pack, not following others hopelessly trying to stay in line. There was the extra bonus, of not stepping in other dog’s poop, too.
If you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes.
It is not easy advice to receive when fitting in seems so important, but it was the guidance I needed. I finally gave up trying to fit in, and just started doing my own thing. My piano skills got me into theater. My theater skills let me comedy. My comedy skills took me into hypnosis. And I never saw one dog butt! Thank you Dad. Your advice took me on a most wonderful journey, because you encouraged me to choose my own course.
Photo credit: Traci Kanaan; taken near Juneau, Alaska while dog sledding on a glacier in June of 2018.