How it works is that I see or perceive or imagine a certain behavior in other people first. Once I’m aware of it in others I see it in myself and then work to strike it out. That might not REALLY be the way it works. Maybe I’m aware that something’s wrong in the way I’m handling something but can’t recognize it in myself until I see it in others first. Maybe that awareness that something is wrong makes me more sensitive, able to “see it” in others.
I like to think that negative thoughts are easy to spot. Negative thoughts are like “I can’t do this” and positive thoughts are “I think I can, I think I can” right? We all recognize the self fulfilling negative behavior in other people. They say something like “I’m going to fall getting off the chairlift.” and because they think it they do. And you know it, so you keep trying to pump them up and spend all the time with them pumping them up, trying to make them think positive thoughts.
I have a friend who has repeatedly made a couple of statements. One is something like “I’m never going to be a lady” and the other is “I’m okay with being poor, I’m chasing my passion.” Now, I’m making conclusions here. I like to play the “What if?” game. I’m not saying this is what ACTUALLY happened, but this is how I imagine things in my head. To me, “I’m never going to be a lady” sounds cool at first. “Awesome, she’s low maintenance! Jeans and a t-shirt 24 x 7″. And who can’t respect someone for loving their dreams enough to follow them? That’s admirable isn’t it?
But what if it isn’t? What if we start saying things like that as a joke and then over time say it so much we start believing it. The myth becomes a reality. What if we make excuses to justify behavior? What if we’re comfortable where we are and don’t want to stretch or grow? Or we’re lazy and let ourselves off the hook? I realize this isn’t a shocking realization to anyone else, but it kind of is to me. I probably instinctively knew some of this but never thought it out before. When you were in your twenties you got used to hanging out with the guys in the dorm rooms or the apartment with twenty people living in it. Cursing like a sailor, farting or burping and everyone laughing about it. Hey, buying pot for your friend’s birthday makes you awesome. It was the coolest present on That 70s Show right? Jeans and a tee are the uniform. Sweats with letters on the bottom are sexy. That becomes your comfort zone. And maybe your passion is awesome. It’s fun. It’s hip. But as you get older your comfort zone isn’t really appropriate anymore. Or following your passion on your specific terms isn’t paying the bills anymore. Other people around you are starting to “grow up”. Dress nice. Get jobs other than as a barista or cell phone salesman. Only party on the weekends. Couple up, have babies, get insurance. Start saving money. Any maybe you don’t know how to do that. Or in your immaturity you can’t separate some of it from the whole. You don’t realize growing up doesn’t mean you have to have kids if you don’t want them. Or that you can grow up and NOT drive a minivan. Or you are scared of being rejected or failing. So instead of trying and failing you mock.
Is it any different than punkers making fun of the squares? Blue collar guys mocking the yuppies? Sure, there’s probably a percentage of people who really, truly believe in communism or anarchism or whatever ism, but the majority are just paying it lip service. They’re jealous of the success of others, scared of learning they aren’t as good or special or smart or capable as they’d like to be. As long as they mock and never try, they’ll never fail. Sure, the saying is “nothing ventured, nothing gained” but I think about some things most people have a little voice inside that says “nothing ventured, no self image lost”. Maybe they tried once and had their heart broken, or their dream smashed and decided to never try again. How many times have any of us done that? Struck out the first time at bat and forever decided baseball was stupid?
Is “I’ll never be a lady” code for “I have no idea how to apply makeup or act as a professional woman in a work setting”? I was talking to a friend about this, baking my thoughts out and she had this to say:
It’s all one big cop out. My sister used to be (still is to some extent the same way). She had this attitude like “I just don’t care what I look like”, so she always looked like shit.
I taught her how to blowdry her hair so it’s straight and flat and she started doing it consistently, and it was night and day. She looked amazing. Everyone commented on how pretty and put together she looked. She got promoted. For once she actually looked like she gave a shit about herself. I think she was too scared to care because she just didn’t know how.
Monday night we went out to get makeup for her wedding, so we got our makeup done and then bought all the stuff we would need. OMG Sean, I have never seen her look so beautiful. The whole night at dinner I kept being amazed that the beautiful girl sitting across from me was my sister. And it really didn’t take that much makeup. I’ve always been the “hot sister” but I’ve always said that really the only difference between us was that I was girly and put a little effort into my appearance while she doesn’t, and I think it’s actually true. And she totally loves it… Once she has the confidence to know she can do these things, she embraces them.
And maybe there’s a certain amount of naïve idealism. We shouldn’t be judged by our looks. But by choosing not to play the game do you change anything? Or do you only hold yourself back? And is being a lady just about looks? Does that mean you have to dress in a pant suit with heels and pearls everyday of the week? Or does it just mean one day a week you dress it up a little so people don’t pigeonhole you and underestimate you? And you curse less, laugh about some things like passing gas a little less, etc?
Same thing with the “chasing my passion” argument. Is it all or nothing? Does taking a corporate job and chasing the passion on the weekends make you a sellout? Is there a way to chase your dream AND make money? Not just enough to pay the bills, but enough to have a decent quality of life and save for rainy days and the future? Say you’re a videographer. For every five crappy commercials you film can you do one cool documentary or rock video? If you’re an artist do you have to be a struggling artist? Or can you paint on your time off? I work a 9-5 and bust my ass and find time to go help hand build skateboards for probably an additional 15-20 hours a week. I’m exhausted sometimes but I feel good because I’m doing both things, being the responsible adult, getting things done as well as planning for the future and doing something I’m passionate about.
I think there’s a problem with making those types of statements to yourself, which I’ll talk more about in a minute, because you limit yourself in your own head. But I think there’s a danger to making them out loud because they influences peoples’ perspective of you. To me, I don’t think of my friend as someone that I can talk about work to. Not because she isn’t smart, but because I don’t feel like she’ll understand some of my frustrations or that she won’t care because she’s chosen to not get involved in that world. Either she’s made herself sound limited and I don’t think she can relate OR she sounds like she’s… above such petty problems and I feel silly talking to her about them. So it automatically limits our interactions. Is that fair to her? Nope, but that’s the way life works. And what happens when a couple years down the road I hear about a great job opportunity. Is there the possibility that might not pass it on to her? “Man, whoever gets that job is going to have to rub shoulders with some fancy folks. Better not recommend her for it.” Or can you imagine if we were dating? Would I be nervous to introduce her to networking friends or take her to work functions?
I’ve had people that I’ve coached a little with their professional careers. One of the things that frustrates me to no end is when I send them a job I think would be a good fit. “Hey, did you apply for that job?” “No, I didn’t.” “Why?” “Well, I didn’t have everything they were asking. It didn’t seem like I fully qualified.” “Hey. Dumbass. The only job you’re really fully qualified for is probably the one you have now. That you’re bored with. The point of this is to stretch a little.”
So. How did I turn that focus on myself when I started “seeing” this behavior in others? Well, pretty easy. I saw a ton of similar statements and justifications that I make to myself all the time that have severely inhibited me over the years. You see it with little kids all the time. They hear their parents say “Oh he/she’s shy” and then that’s how they identify themselves. Then they start acting shy all the time. Then it’s a hassle to teach them NOT to be shy. Well, that’s one of them. I’ve been telling myself and anyone around me that I’m shy for a million years. And I am. But that’s not an excuse NOT to try. I’ve made jokes about how clumsy I am and how I can’t dance. Guess what? I’m just scared to try. When I was younger I used to say stupid things about weight lifting. And some of them were true when I was 18. But not when I was 30 something. I finally sat down, read some books, talked to some folks smarter than me, and in six months had put on 20+ pounds of muscle. “I’m conflict adverse” was an excuse to avoid tough situations at work for a long time. This last year I had to fire a friend. It sucked. Cost me a friendship. But I did it. And I survived it. It wasn’t something to run from.
It would be so easy to keep justifying bad behavior, and I’m sure I will until I recognize the new cop-out. But right now I can see how much I’d want to use my lung problem to keep from exercising or my head thing to keep from finishing school. Sure, there’s some truth to the problems but I can’t use them as a crutch. I can’t use “I’m an introvert” to justify not meeting friends of friends or networking professionally.
When I was a kid the statement that I dreaded the most was “doesn’t live up to full potential”. Seemed like a constant on every report card. But I get it now. I don’t. And obviously won’t in every regard. But I can try.