Sometimes in life we find ourselves having the option of joining the crowd or standing alone. This can be based on a political cause, a research interest, or even a company dinner. When this happens, the choice we make reflects how comfortable we are with what the crowd is doing, with our position, and most of all, with ourselves or those we’re with. This week Jan and I had the opportunity to join a crowd or stand (sit) alone. Let me tell you how we made up our mind, and how good it felt for both of us to do so.
On Thursday night my company held a recognition dinner at a very nice local restaurant for our area staff. It was a wonderful event for which they had spent a lot of money and given sincere thought. The evening started with a cocktail hour followed by the dinner portion. Jan and I enjoyed talking to a few folks at the cocktail hour before we left the venue to put my backpack in the trunk of our car. On the way out of the restaurant we put our coats on a couple of seats at one of the tables where the dinner was set up to take place in a few minutes. We then left the restaurant, walked to the car, and dropped off my backpack. Upon returning to the restaurant, we were a little surprised to see all of the guests seated, but none at our table. We had chosen a table at the end of the room, so I could have my back to a wall, rather than to the open floor.
When we reentered the room, everyone looked at us. We proceeded to take our place at our completely vacant table, staring out at the whole room. Jan joked to me how it was as if this was a wedding party, and we were the honored guests. We laughed that we would be sitting alone for the evening, and how awesome it was since we don’t get a lot of date nights, so my company provided one for us, cost free.
Throughout the evening people from other tables would come up to us, offering to make space at their tables so we could join. We politely thanked them before laughing at how it was our date night, and this was really cool. What was even better is all the tables with full seats had to split sides. Jan and I, on the other hand, got to have sides all to ourselves. We came away from this meal with a snack for our kids when we got home (if they were still up), and with lots of food left over for the following day. We would not have had that bonus had we sat with everyone else.
It was fun to sit at the table with Jan, looking out on these crowded coworkers. We were able to talk about our plans for the next week, the summer, and longer term. We addressed some outstanding questions of travel, child care, and even reminisced about some fun past events. I did not mind at all about missing out on small-talk with coworkers when I could have deep, and fun talk with my lovely wife.
When the head of the part of the organization I work for came up to us to offer the one empty seat at his table, we joked about our date night, and how instead, he could just hire us a violin to drown out the noise from the rest of the room. He loved it, and noted how he wished he could do the same.
Through our evening of conversation both Jan and I did mention the fact that, had we been alone, we would have joined another table. Sitting there, by ourselves was fine, if we were together. Having to do so, alone, would have been much harder, especially when single seats were available. We did not feel rude since we were a couple. It would have been rather rude to just sit there alone during the event. We were both good with that.
In the end, we were confident with who we are, with what we wanted, and with how our willingness to stand out would look to the rest of the people in our dinner party. Jan and I were true to ourselves, having a great time on my company’s dime.
Do you ever find yourself standing out, whether by intent or simply circumstance? If so, how do you handle it? Would you handle it differently if were alone versus with the one person in the world with whom you feel most comfortable? What is a time you decided to keep standing out, standing up, standing alone, when the rest of the world thought you weird, or maybe even envied you?