Recently I asked some of my friends to define myself: What comes to mind when they think of me, how do they perceive me, what do my critics say, etc. I think we all assume that other people see us in a very uniform way, that the views will be somewhat similar to those we have of ourselves. Turns out the results were quite surprising.
If you ask a colleague at work, a neighbour, your squash mate, your client, they will have different views of yourself. That’s normal. You are supposed to behave differently in each of these settings. But when asking your inner circle of friends .. surely they all have similar views, right?
Not quite. The views were so divergent that you’d think they were talking about different people. I was so surprised that I decided to stop and reflect on the topic to understand the underlying causes – which I’m now sharing because I think it will help us being more cognizant of ourselves. After all, how can my inner circle of friends have so different views of myself? It’s not that I behave differently in different settings, I tend to be very authentic whomever I’m with or whichever context I am. But these are my friends, those that supposedly know me better. I even tried to make them comfortable by saying I’m not looking for love, that I was prepared to be confronted with harsh criticism. Their answers transformed the way I look at the myself, my actions and how I interact with other people.
Here’s what I learned:
1. That what they see and how they perceive me is a reflection of their own selves and their own past experiences. The way they interpret my tone of voice, my expressions, my facebook posts, my whats up messages, my emails, etc is impacted by how they themselves see the world, how they were brought up, their childhood traumas, their education, the people they met along the way, etc. They are wearing their own glasses when they interact with you, not the ones you wear.
2. Who you are at 20 is NOT who you are at 25, at 30 or 35. We are in constant transformation and your friends at 20 will have a very different view of yourself than those you met at 25 or 30. That also explains why you may not feel so connected anymore with the best friends you used to have a few years ago. Life evolves and if you’re not making new friends as you age, then you might be breathing but you’re not really alive.
3. Be mindful that every action you take (a simple “whats up” message, a Facebook post, a phone call you never made but you should, etc) has long lasting consequences in the way people perceive you, in ways you wouldn’t expect.
4. You don’t always have the opportunity to have face-to-face conversations anymore in this globalised, busy and high-tech world. Most of us have friends / acquaintances spread around the world, so physical interactions are rarer and rarer. Your selection of words in your written communications matter and becomes who you are.
5. People are busy and always looking for shortcuts. When you meet someone new, people will judge you and form opinions very quickly. As such, your 1st impressions and interactions with others matter more than in the past because you may not get a 2nd chance to explain yourself or to change someone’s impressions. They may carry a distorted image of you .. potentially forever (if you were having a bad day, if you said something sensitive, if you were wearing ugly clothes that day, if you asked the wrong question, etc). This actually reminds me of the MBA I took with a class of ~200 people. I found later that many of them based their opinion on one or two interactions we had (or rumours they heard). Whether those impressions are truthful or not, that’s it .. people have no time nor interest to validate them.
In the end make sure you live an authentic life and don’t dwell too much on what other people think of you. You can never please everyone (nor should you). What you should do is be aware of who you are, that’s all.
So I challenge you to do the same exercise. Put your pride aside, wear your bullet-proof jacket and be prepared to be confronted with some things you may not want to hear. Ignore judgements, some will think that you’re going through an existential crisis, that you’re wrestling with questions involving the meaning of life, etc .. but worry not about that. Better to be waken up now than a sleeping zombie for life.
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