Overview: Adam Williams, creator of Humanitou, goes it alone in this episode and shares one of his simplest, most private practices for breaking away from conformity: mismatching his socks. He’s been doing it for years, and has been influencing his two sons in doing it, too. Frivolous and weird? Maybe. Shockingly empowering and profound? Could be. Listen to Adam lay out his reasoning and, well, advocate for everyone to mismatch their socks in this solo episode of the Humanitou Podcast.
EP 114 SHOW NOTES, LINKS & TRANSCRIPT
Episode cover illustration: Adam Williams
“Upfronts” by Ketsa | freemusicarchive.org
Now, I often talk with guests. We have conversations. We talk about a lot of the, the deep and meaningful, and fun and funny, and amazing and all kinds of things, right? The stuff that has to do a lot with life, with what we experienced with how we feel it, with how we communicate it, express it.
But it’s been a while since I’ve done a solo episode. So I’m sharing some thoughts, uh, and maybe some questions as much as anything, because I’m not really sure that I have certain answers, but I don’t ask my guests to have certain answers either.
We always take what we know so far to be what we think might be true based on our experience, based on our place in this, this life, uh, sort of experience and whatever the set of knowledge is that we think we have for the time being. And this is where I am today.
00:01:09 I’m thinking about conformity and breaking free of that. Now that comes on the heels of a recent conversation that I did have with the artist Taylor Spence, aka Savannalore, that was in episode 112. And when she joined me for the podcast, we talked about conformity and breaking free and all kinds of other really amazing things. I encourage you to go listen to her and the insights that she has.
And what we talked about were those paths to being our true full selves. Now that’s a topic that has come up over and over in some form or another, with many people that I talk with for the podcast. And, you know, surely that’s no coincidence. It’s a topic that is constant in me and in a lot of others, maybe you too. So as I was folding the family’s laundry over the weekend, I had a literal and figurative expression of breaking conformity in my hands.
00:02:10 It’s a practice that I’ve used in my own life in recent years. And it’s one that I’m sharing with my sons who are eight and 10, whether they understand why or not yet, I’m not so sure. And so here, I’m going to share it with you now, my now not so secret practice for breaking free of conformity and tapping into my own voice.
Just a little bit more, I think probably as an overlooked, maybe even– well, I’m curious what your reaction will be. Maybe it’s funny. Maybe it sounds ridiculous. Maybe by the time I’m done with this, you’ll be convinced.
A secret practice I have for breaking free of conformity is to wear mismatched socks. I’ve been purposefully, intentionally mismatching my socks for years now. I also mismatch a lot of my sons’ socks when I’m pairing those up. Now, the question of course, I suppose, would be why.
00:03:08 I think that something kind of profound from this very simple act is to start a ripple effect of questioning and redefining, or even undefining quote-normal. My sons, who, like I said, are eight and 10. They do not question the mismatching. They don’t say “Dad, stop doing it, put together the ones that match.”
And maybe that’s because they’re only eight and 10, or some might assume it’s because they’re boys. I don’t know. Maybe. But I think it’s also because the, that again, quote-normal in our house as I have created it is that socks do not have to be matched. Those rules. Those so-called rules do not have to be followed blindly.
You know, if socks don’t have to be matched, even though they come from the factory that way, and everyone around us is wearing them that way. Here’s where the value is: What else can we question? What else can we redefine and choose to be our own, to do it our own way, to just reconsider or think about.
As uncomfortable as it is to go against the status quo, to break that grip of the status-quo inertia and ask this simple question, “Why?” It’s important to ask why. I think it is. And it’s a huge daily part of my life. But I think because of that discomfort, it’s also why relatively so few people, in my awareness, do it.
And it’s why they get uncomfortable. Even when others around them do it. Especially if they’re in a position of authority. And I’ve encountered that one plenty of times, anywhere I’ve ever had a job throughout my entire career. If the people around you, up and down the chain of that hierarchy, and to those positions of authority, don’t ask why, it really troubles them.
00:05:06 When somebody else says, “Wait a second, why are we doing it this way?” They feel, I think, threatened, maybe unsure about their own thoughts, and instead of actually going into that for themselves, so often it comes back where, I’m a bittersweet piece of the puzzle. They sure love the work that I do, but they’re not so sure they love my asking “Why?”
Groupthink drives society. Fair enough? In our schools and our churches, corporations, politics, and even in our social circles. And I think for a lot of people, conformity is easy. You just don’t think about why things are as they are. You don’t think about what they could be, how or why they could be. But it’s only easy– conformity is only easy for who it’s easy for. If that tongue twister makes sense. It’s only easy to those who think conformity is easy.
00:06:10 For those of us who are driven by curiosity, and we ask that simple question of why, the idea of conforming blindly is incredibly painful. Now, I suspect that whoever’s listening here, you know, I don’t want to break it into a duality here of one camp or the other but you know, where you lean. You know this pain, if this is you.
You know that conformity that wants to clamp down on your curiosity, your interest in asking why. It’s soul-destroying. It’s an existential matter. And it can be very difficult even for us to break free from, right, nonetheless, because we’re conditioned in society. We’re socially conditioned just the same as those who willingly conform or unthinkingly do, don’t realize they do, maybe.
And we have relatively few models who show us the underground passage to the light that we crave to the lighthearted, who just want to do their best to, to create and serve in the world, which I think often goes outside of those boundaries of conformity.
00:07:29 So mismatching socks, that’s one of the tickets, I think. It’s what I use. And I think one of the benefits, and this is part of why I’m sharing it, because there might be people listening who absolutely already have figured out their ways to break free. Maybe they never were really given to conforming — and kudos to you.
And maybe there are some who conform so hard, they have no clue what I’m talking about. And they think this is an absolutely ridiculous podcast and they turned off minutes ago. But for those who are somewhere in between, who really like the sound of breaking conformity and really aren’t sure what mismatching socks has to do with it, here’s one of the reasons I use it. It’s pretty much a private thing and it’s relatively safe, right? Safe in that social sense, the things that we fear, people’s reactions, we don’t really have to fear too much.
00:08:27 If you go out in public, your shoes are on, nobody knows, generally. And it’s also a way to bring joy into your life. And that was, that was a big part of when I started a few years ago, I intentionally went out and I bought all these wildly colored and patterned socks so that I could mismatch them.
So now I’m breaking out of what for me had been such a habit of wearing, well, I think a lot of men’s clothes, you know, if you’re in the professional world in particular, uh, maybe there’s not in particular, I’ve been looking for outdoor clothing and it’s the same thing. It’s a lot of earthy tones, neutral tones, serious tones. And I wanted wild colors and patterns so that I could then clash them, mismatch them. And for me shed what was 40-plus years, so far of not using my voice in that way, not expressing myself in that way.
00:09:26 You know, it’s a chance to be safe and be private, relatively speaking, while learning to color outside the lines of life. Just mismatch your socks. It harms no one and it can be your secret rebellion.
So obviously we’re all aware that we already often attribute power to clothes. Uh, the Oscars were just on, I didn’t pay attention, but I’m sure there was a big something in various media outlets about what everybody was wearing on the red carpet.
There are these applications of the importance of clothes in all kinds of ways. Some of them have deep meaning. Some of them are, we might judge them as superficial, whatever the case. What we’re wearing can give us a boost in confidence for that special meeting event, first date or third, or for a personal emotional pick me up. Maybe we wear that special underwear, that lucky shirt, that favorite color, tie, dress, hat. Maybe it’s lucky socks. But are the socks mismatched?
00:10:31 So why not use that as a starting point to break it all down, break down the walls, at least internally, of our perception in relationship to conformity? Why not go with that rule-breaking, earth-shaking, mismatching of our socks?
By the way, that I could even sarcastically describe the practice of mismatching socks has earth-shaking suggests I think how strong the grip of conformity and conditioning is, does it not? Something so minor yet just so not done? For those of us who know so well the seemingly all-powerful grip of conformity of societal conditioning that runs so deep, we not only do things without thinking about why we do them, but even the mere suggestion of mismatching our socks causes a knee jerk, sort of, “no way, that’s ridiculous.”
You know, that no way response, which by the way, if that’s your response, or your response is simultaneously one of dismissal and anxiety, as in, “Oh, that’s dumb, what’s it matter to mismatch socks?” but also maybe the anxiety about the idea of doing it too, which your kind of fearful, fear-based conforming ingrained mind might say, “Oh, I can never do that.” You really might want to ask why that’s your response to such a small step outside the box?
I don’t recall off-hand how I felt the first time I mismatched my socks or started the habit. It’s been very few days in the last handful of years that I’ve allowed my socks to match. And it usually has nothing to do with appearance. It has to do with different, say, weights of the socks or textures that touches on, you know, a comfort thing for me. Uh, it’s never about the appearance.
And I went into it pretty gung ho. I thought it was a great idea, but I imagine a lot of the years leading up to it are also what brought me to that place to, um, to get comfortable with even a secretive going against the grain. Because I feel like I had, like I said, 40-plus years of, well, let’s say 20 years of really matching the boundaries and then a good 20 of trying to figure out how to break them.
00:12:54 So for those of us who want to feel free and true to our own hearts, I suggest that you give it a try, right? Something simple, something easy, something foolish and frivolous, something not so serious. And it’s a tiny step that leads to more mismatching. Your socks can be shockingly empowering. If you don’t believe me, give it a try.
And it can be your little secret, except that when you give it a try, and I do hope that everyone listening seriously, just once, just start with once, one in a row and let me know how it feels. Send me a DM through Instagram, send me an email. And I’m really curious. In fact, it would be really fascinating if this episode got shared around and people tried this, and we ended up with a collection of perspectives and reactions to this simple little, little thing.
00:13:47 And how did it feel? Did it feel awkward? Why? Did it feel great? Why? Have you ever mismatched your socks? If not, why? So let me know how it feels. And then let me know what other convention-breaking sorts of ideas that it sparks for you. What have you really been wanting to do, maybe for a lifetime, but have been too afraid of that “they,” the quote “their” reaction.
Mismatched socks are one of the keys to a universe of self truth, freedom and joy. I’m pretty sure of this. I’m saying, mismatched socks, I’m pretty sure are one of the keys to breaking it all down, breaking away from that conformity, because it’s all an ongoing practice. It’s hard to do.
There are a lot more intelligent things out there in the world, a lot more, I mean, self-help books, lifelong spiritual practices, all these things that are much deeper and much more, uh, I’ll say serious, in a good way, like, meaningful and intentional and well thought out sorts of approaches to how to break ourselves free of that societal conditioning.
00:15:05 But I’m still pretty sure that this little step for the people who need to hear it, the people in the middle of that spectrum I described earlier, I think this can be a pretty cool thing. So mismatch your socks. And from there, all things can be questioned. All systems, all rules, all so-called rules, all expectations, all those things we take as given, the thoughtless and outdated status quos.
Yeah. Give it a try. Oh, and go listen to the conversation I had with Savannahlore. There’s a lot of good, good stuff in there. Beautiful takeaways for further emboldening, your spirit, your attitude, your, um, your finding your true self and just really, really engaging in that.
And then of course, there’s a lot of other wonderful conversations with other wonderful guests on the podcast too. Again, this is a recurring theme.
Yeah. Mismatch your socks. Okay.
Thanks for listening to my thoughts on mismatching your socks, which really, of course, was about breaking conformity, living freely, finding your true self, and your full voice and expression in the world.
That really depends a lot on those social structures that have so conditioned us to just not find our own lane. I want you to find your lane just as I’m trying to find mine. Just as this podcast is part of me finding mine, finding my voice and sharing with you. and hopefully whoever out there who really needed to hear about the breakthrough of mismatching socks.
If you have comments or topical suggestions for future solo episodes, let me know. I slide them in between the conversational episodes every now and then. you can reach me firstname.lastname@example.org for email or by Instagram, DM at Humanitou.
Information, links and show notes relevant to this and all episodes are at humanitou.com. You can also sign up for the monthly email newsletter, see what I’m up to as a visual artist, a poet– I’m doing a number of things and humanitou.com is where I show it all.
I’m Adam Williams creator and host of the Humanitou podcast. Thanks for being here.