“You work so hard!” (What do you mean, I only work a fraction of what I should…)
“You’re so successful!” (Don’t let the nice website fool ya…)
“You’ve got your act together.” (Ha! You should see my desk!)
“You’re so good at ____.” (But I stink at everything else.)
“You’re so brave!” (If you only knew how afraid I was…)
Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall…
I was having coffee with a colleague a few days ago, and she said to me, “You’re such a hard worker.” My first thought was, “Pfft! If you only knew!” Many people have said that to me over the years, and I have never believed them. Until this time. I stopped to consider what was true about what my friend reflected back to me. In the moment, I said, “Oh, thank you!” and I meant it. But my mind was still stuck in “If you only knew…” I was engaging in a bit of self-defeating self-talk, thinking, “But I’m not working as hard as I should be.”
This brief encounter highlighted a bit of dissonance between perception and, well, perception! Her perception was that I am a hard worker. My perception was that I don’t work hard enough.
I also had a flash-back to an end-of-year declaration that I was going to “act as if” I was a successful entrepreneur. When I told my husband my intention, he said, “But you already ARE!”
Each time someone tells us what they see in us, it’s a gift. They’re acting as a mirror. They see something we can’t see for ourselves. It’s like a fish that doesn’t see water, because it’s swimming in it.
If we don’t graciously accept the opportunity to acknowledge the reality that others see, we’re denying ourselves a piece of validation. Introverts are generally self-contained when it comes to motivation and validation. We tend to have an internal gauge that tells us when we’re on- or off-track, and external feedback isn’t what drives us. That internal gauge can easily become an internal critic, holding us to an impossible standard based on what we perceive others to be achieving. The inner critic is quick to judge, negate, and otherwise warp our perceptions of the reality our progress.
A Cure, For Your Consideration…
The next time someone tells you, “You’re really amazing at this!,” believe it. Allow yourself to receive the validation at face-value. Even if it doesn’t completely feel true, there IS some truth to it. Acknowledge and own that piece of truth. Let it transform you. Give it space to inflate your ego a bit. Most of our egos are a bit deflated, because we stomp them flat with our “If they only knew…”s. A little healthy ego is a good thing! It gives you strength to persist in what you believe, to keep showing up and moving forward.
Maybe the giver of the compliment is abiding by one of Dale Carnegie’s Golden Rules from “How to Win Friends and Influence People”: Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to. It’s like someone is telling you, “Whether or not it’s true, I believe this about you, and I want you to believe it about yourself.”
It’s said that “Perception is reality” (Lee Atwater). It’s an idea that can be used for good or evil. Let’s assume best intent and use it for good: consider that others’ positive perceptions might just be reality. Be willing to release what you think is true to make room for what really is true.
PS: A friend on Facebook shared this “Notes from the Universe” today… it seemed like a nice extension of this post, so I’m passing it along…
Do you know why butterflies float? Fireflies light? Comets fall, trees grow, cats purr, and tails wag?
Well, I have some hunches, and here’s my favorite: Each is an aspect of the one who perceives them, disguised by the elements, caught in an act of reflection, noticed in just the right place and at just the right moment, to remind the dreamer, as if by metaphor, of their own sublime divinity and that there is ever more to learn and love about themselves.
Kind of like you are, to me.
What’s your cure for the “If they only knew…”s? How do you choose to respond when people hold the mirror up to you? Please share in the comments!