“We see the world not as it is, but as we are. ”
(Possible sources: The Talmud, Anais Nin, or Stephen Covey.)
We apply our past perceptions to the world around us. Each of us has a unique view of the world, a way of seeing, that has been shaped by our personality, our experiences, and our own internalizations. We form conclusions, make predictions, and apply those thoughts to new things. We do so in an attempt to protect ourselves, to reduce our fears and anxieties. “I knew a guy like that once and he was bad news. I should stay away from this guy too.” “I had a job once where this kind of thing started happening. It will likely play out that way here.” We take our past experience and apply it to the presence in an effort to inform our decisions about the future.
This isn’t a bad thing in all cases. Sometimes we’re right. Things do play out the same. History does repeat itself. Sometimes, however, we are wrong. We miss opportunities. We make a choice that isn’t really in line with our goals. We react in fear.
When we apply this kind of protective and predictive thinking to people, we run the risk of misjudging. People are complex systems of thought, feeling, behavior, biology, and more. It is foolish to believe we can understand a person and their intentions based on limited interaction, particularly if we don’t allow time for that person to express and demonstrate their passions, values, beliefs, and motives. We can see people the way we think we should or the way we have seen others. It is much harder to simply observe someone, accept them as they are, and continually learn about them.
We do this to others. Others also do this to us. We can’t change that. We can’t make the other person different any more than they can make us different. Instead, we can choose to listen, to learn, and seek to understand. We can also carry ourselves with intention. We can be clear about who we are. We can declare who we are in an effort to assist others in their understanding of us.
In business, in community groups, in new social acquaintances, in families, in any kind of human organization… It is important to declare who you are to others. It is important to be clear about who you are, who want to be, what you value, what you desire, and what you can offer to others.
Often we get caught up in making “first impressions” & forget to be honest about who we are. Conventional wisdom traps us into being what we are not. We have been told “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” So, we work hard to make an impression, to impress. We put our “best foot forward”. We show all the good that is us. The problem is… we aren’t that great all the time. We are human. We are flawed. We mess up. We get tired, hungry, and cranky. We lose sight of important things because our minds are distracted by other things. Stress, obligations, browsing social media… all kinds of distractions exist to pull us away from being our best selves. Deep down we know this, yet we still seek to put forth that best impression. We seek to impress. From there, it is a constant negotiation as we try to live up to the expectations we have created while also trying not to give up part of ourselves.
A person interviews for a job. They nail it. They play up all their great qualities. They highlight their significant achievements. They act on their best behavior. They get the job! Then… reality sets in. Their new manager believes them to be a certain kind of person. They work tirelessly to meet that everyday…. and eventually their will power starts to give out. They find that they don’t quite fit the culture, that they don’t quite gel with their new teammates, and they worry that someday soon people will find out that who they really are isn’t the person that was hired.
Two people start dating. They see the best in each other and show the best to each other. They are fascinated and thrilled that they’ve met someone so wonderful. They are ecstatic. Time goes by… they grow more comfortable. They start to relax. They let their guard down. They become themselves. Then, they look at each other one day and think “You’ve changed. This isn’t the person I fell in love with.” Maybe they’re right. Or maybe, they just didn’t see clearly.
You must declare who you are. Honestly. You must be willing to admit what you care about and what you don’t. What you like to do and what you don’t. What your fears are, in addition to your hopes. What your weakness is, in addition to your strength. You must be real. You must be you.
In order to do this, you must be clear with yourself about who you are. You must embark into the journey of self-discovery. Understand your natural patterns, your drives, your talents, your weaknesses, your fears, your habits, your values, your intentions, your defining experiences, your true self.
This is no small task. For some, this can take years. For others, a dedicated weekend may get them there. The important part is that you make the time, make the effort, and get in touch with the true you. Only then can you begin to move toward the you that you want to be. There are no short cuts. Presenting yourself as who you want to be instead of who you are at present will only lead to disappointment and conflict later on.
Once you declare who you are, it is also important to keep having the conversation. Continue to inform others of who you are and what you value. You will change some over time. You will learn, you will grow, you will adapt. You will set new goals, perhaps alter your beliefs, and pursue new passions. As you change, be sure to acknowledge this within yourself. Once you have a personal understanding of the way your are growing, you can better share with others. People do change. Not radically, in most cases, but subtly as they grow. If you don’t keep others informed, they may one day look at you and think “you’ve changed.” While this is true, they will have missed the gradual transformation and instead see radical, threatening change.
Keep telling people “this is who I am now. this is where I’m at. this is what I stand for.” Have frequent conversations with those closest to you about these things. Seek to understand each other and look for ways to support one another. Through declaring ourselves and sharing with others, we can help influence their perception of us. Through truly listening to others, we can shape our perception of them. Together, we get closer to the truth of ourselves and, in turn, we become closer to one another.
“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.”– Tony Robbins