Developing an Enigma

There’s a question I love to ask people is, Who are you? Because many people don’t have a clue. It’s also a question that can be answered simply but can have so much depth in it as well.

Developing an Enigma
Photo by Namphuong Van / Unsplash

For those who prefer to listen:

Almost a decade ago now, my favorite teacher of all time, Mrs.Lee, gave me some unique insight into how I was/am perceived at times. It was my senior year in high school, and I was a part of this pre-engineering program through HS called Project Lead the Way. Every year, our sponsors would come in for a tour and look at our different classrooms for the program. A senior would handle the tour, and a few of us were always around as work-study assistants.

Something unique happened one day that opened my eyes. I was sitting in the room early, probably grading some papers. One of my classmates, a close friend of mine in HS, came in, and Mrs. Lee asked him if he could handle the tour with our sponsors. He said sure, but I became inquisitive about something 🤔.

Now I’ve told you she’s my favorite teacher. It has a lot to do with my freshman year, where I struggled and was on the verge of falling out of the program during my first two quarters then. She worked with my family and me to figure out (cue Marvin Gaye) what’s going on (if you don’t know who Marvin Gaye is, shame on you).

I asked her why she didn’t ask me to do the tour. Mrs. Lee said, “Alonzo… you’re hard to read, and you tend to intimidate people.”

I don’t see myself as a physically imposing person, nor am I naturally rude (depending on the person 😏). This is genuinely new territory of knowledge for me. However, there had to be another layer to this, with another simple question, I asked “How so?”

She responded, “No one really knows what you’re thinking.”

I concluded with, “Hmm, I can see that.” That was the conversation. I lovingly use this phrase graciously blunt. I learned more in that moment than I learned in some classes throughout the years. This seed of truth is validated later in that school year. For now, will look at how someone can develop the qualities of an enigma.

What’s an Enigma

You may be asking what is an enigma. Merriam-Webster defines an enigma as:

  • something hard to understand or explain
  • an inscrutable or mysterious person

Mysterious or different, sometimes weird, is a word some people have described me as, especially those who've gotten to know me. Being mysterious is more of a by-product of something my parents taught my sis and me. That was to be well-rounded people. My natural reaction is to observe, and I tend to give off a mysterious vibe unknowingly (according to some). If there's one thing that frustrated me, mainly when I was younger, it's when people try to put me in a box. I believe people have so much more depth than just what's presented on the surface.

Being Different

Trying to be different and being different are two distinctively different things. I used different a lot there 🤔. Growing up with a biblical worldview, with my natural temperament, curiosity, and spending a lot of time with older people, you become “different.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever hung out with older people, but they really don’t care sometimes (most of the time 😅) what you think. That can be good or bad, depending on the situation. ‘Cause of some of those experiences, I rarely struggled with fear of missing out (FOMO) or peer pressure growing up.

I don’t know if you can relate, but have you experienced being more lonely in a group than when you are alone? One question I love to ask people is, Who are you? Because many people don’t have a clue. It’s also a question that can be answered simply but can have so much depth in it as well. While observing people from my generation and the generations that follow, we tend to fill up our time, avoiding the question: Who am I? This is a question of identity; not many of us know who we are.

I believe most of us are fearful of this question because we’re afraid of what we think of ourselves. We frequently measure and compare ourselves to others, which allows that to dictate our identity, value, and worth. We look to jobs, relationships, parenthood, beauty, athleticism, wealth, health, and other things to define us and give us value. These things aren’t inherently wrong; many are good things, but what happens if such things are taken from us? Where’s our hope?

A quote that I have for one of my core values in excellence is:

“Human tragedies: We all want to be extraordinary and we all just want to fit in. Unfortunately, extraordinary people rarely fit in.” ― Sebastyne

I have a mentee who was trying to become more mysterious in his day-to-day interactions. I felt honored that he was trying to replicate some of my tendencies, but I also shook my head at the same time. Authenticity and genuineness are the core of an enigma. A quote that my dad and I are always quoting to each other from Hamlet is:

To thine own self be true

I’m a firm believer that everyone has intrinsic value and worth. Over time, you’ll see throughout the content that I produce where my value and worth are rooted, and I will answer the question, Who am I. You may not agree with my worldview or all my findings, and that’s cool. That’s your prerogative. My hope is that you can respect my convictions as a man and as a human.

Loving to Think

I’ve been reading through some of Soren Kierkegaard’s writings recently. He was a famous philosopher and theologian from Denmark in the 1800s. He has this quote that I really admire, and it fits our day and age well.

People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use. — Soren Kierkegaard

I find that a lot of people don’t really think as much as you think they think. For a person who loves to think, it baffles me at times. My cousin Dez and I have this constant dialogue about this situation of the lack of people wanting to think. Truly, to think and to think rightly is a very difficult thing to do if you don’t know how to. I’m reminded of the account in the book of Acts, with the Ethiopian Eunuch in chapter 8. It reads:

Acts 8:30-31 (NLT)
Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
31 The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him.

If you truly are on a journey to discover the truth… I’m just going to warn you when you run into it, something will have to give. Truth at its core is objective because if it isn’t, then there is no such thing as truth. Truth has depth and layers, and you’ll keep learning about it. Facts don’t go deep enough.

Facts are surface-level realities of deeper truths.

Embracing the Enigma

Picking back up the story from earlier, Mrs. Lee’s words rung true a few months later in April. Every year in our program, we had this symposium we attended. Picture a science fair for nerds 🤓, during a weekend. That’s the gist.

This is my class’s senior year, and we’re a month away from being done with school, graduation, and prom coming up. As a class, we want to reminisce and go down memory lane later during this trip. Now, I get into a confrontation with an underclassman early Saturday on the trip while playing basketball. I’m very competitive, and most of my conflicts throughout my life have come from playing sports, specifically basketball.

It’s high school, and news travels fast; go figure. So when we finally congregate to talk about the memories, everyone wants to know what happened on the court. I explained the story (it’s not that important), but the unique aspect came right after I finished. This girl in our class is the first to speak after this.

She started off with, “Alonzo….” My name and another pause, so I knew this would be good. She continued, “Before this year, I thought you hated me.” There’s more to this.

Another five or six people chimed in agreement and said, “I know, right, you too.” I’m smirking outside, but I’m dying laughing 😂 inside my head. I live by a motto of embrace the awkward, and this is one of my favorite awkward moments of all time. I replayed the conversation I had with Mrs. Lee; I definitely understood what she meant now.

In my senior year, many people started to see other sides of me. We had class lunches, and I would cook for them at times, and they found out I could actually cook. We had more discussions of depth. I’m not a big fan of small talk, but I have grown in this area through the years.

For example, we had two girls in our class who were cheerleaders talking about stunts. My sis was a cheerleader and a competitive one at that. We started to talk about tumbling passes and favorite flips.

From my parents and grandparents, I learned the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” I don’t put as much stock into first impressions as most do. I take it a step further for me with:

Before you make a judgment on someone or something. Test your assumptions. Test your perceptions. You may be right, or you may be wrong. But be curious and learn why. You never know what you can learn.

Become enigmatic.