What You See Versus What They See


Who are you? Are you who you say you are or are you only what people see? Recently, I had a conversation with a friend about whether I behave the same way with everybody or if I change my behavior depending upon who is around. The conversation startled me, not because it was an unusual topic, but because my friend and I were at the opposite ends of the spectrum. What she saw as putting on airs, I saw as the marriage of consistency and authenticity.

I contend that I am largely the same person, in both disposition and appearance, all the time. I said that for some of the people in my personal life these qualities lead them to decide that I am somewhat pretentious while I think some people in my professional life would like to see more formality. How ironic! So, for some people, I am too buttoned up all the time whereas I need more buttons to satisfy others. Funny enough, amid other people’s disdain, I have found the sweet spot that makes me okay with me.

Whereas I used to fear people’s rejection, I’m now more concerned with not feeling completely comfortable no matter where I am. For example, I’m the kind of woman who believes that if I am too embarrassed to wear the mini-skirt to church that I should be too embarrassed to wear it anywhere. It isn’t about satisfying a church rule or defying it. It is about being confident no matter where I am or who is around. I don’t wear mini-skirts anywhere because they don’t complement my sense of style or my vision of who I am (and make me hyper-paranoid about the size of my thighs). So, my church friends and pastor would never see me in a mini-skirt because I feel so uncomfortable wearing them that I tug on them constantly and don’t feel like myself.  And my “I don’t go to church, but I’m spiritual” friends won’t either. My issues isn’t about mini-skirts being bad (If they work for you, rock them)!  My issue is that I don’t feel good in them.

Before I got to this point, it took me a long time to realize that I actually was changing my disposition and appearance for external approval. While there is nothing wrong with making adjustments for time and place (In fact, a TINY bit of tweaking is recommended and quite useful), I was doing something else. I had not found the balance between catering to other people and being effective in a particular setting. I would change the way that I spoke and second guess my choice of words (which made me appear inarticulate). I even changed the tone of my voice. I would wear wigs (there’s a difference between when I want to wear one and when I feel like somebody is going to reject my look). I would question my makeup. I would buy clothes that I couldn’t afford (credit card diva). I would pretend not to have an opinion on certain topics because I feared rigorous debate, particularly when I knew my opinion was unpopular. Essentially, I didn’t play to my audience; I pandered to it. Sidebar:  now, I wear wigs depending on my mood, not because I think it would make a customer more comfortable with my hairstyle.

What are you seeking approval for? How much progress are you making on your journey toward external approval when there are so many different opinions on what makes you acceptable? How can you satisfy them all? If you had to choose (and you eventually do) what your character is, what matters to you?  What price are you paying to over value other people’s opinions?

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