Recently I asked students in my UCLA class: “What do you first notice about a person when you meet them? What is the first thing you think they notice about you? Does any of this affect the way you communicate?”
The answers were fascinating. One, though, stood out because the student (from India) was shockingly honest. She wrote:
“There’s a direct correlation between a person’s superficial characteristics and the way I act towards them. For example, I work with a woman who is very attractive by American standards. She’s 5’7’’, has a model physique, and gorgeous face (not to mention she’s smart, funny, and sweet). In my mind, she’s much more attractive than I am. Therefore, I automatically assume she’ll look at me as I see myself (poorly) and treat me in an unfavorable way.”
She went on, “I have contact with a former client who is extremely handsome. Whenever he visits my office, I attempt to avoid him because I feel I’m not ‘worthy’ to speak with him, due to a lack of confidence in my appearance. This focus on my physical attributes causes me to feel inadequate and nervous. I avoid people who have the characteristics that I admire and lack because I assume they’ll look at me as I see myself and treat me unfavorably.”
I should mention this student is attractive and personable by any standards. Would she benefit from some therapy? Sure. Is she really different, though, from many of us? I don’t think so.
How we perceive our own self directly impacts how we interact with the world.
I recently took on a client who is an accomplished event planner. She has to give a presentation at an upcoming event and is petrified. When I asked why, she said that she hates speaking in public because she thinks she makes no sense. Although she’s knowledgeable, funny, engaging, and has an enviable track record, she sees herself as a stuttering, stumbling idiot!
Each of these women has arbitrarily imposed self-limits on themselves. One believes she isn’t good looking enough and the other believes she’s not coherent enough. Neither, though, is objectively true.
We are what we think. If we tell ourselves a lie and believe it then we’re cutting ourselves off from gifting others with our knowledge and curtailing the enjoyment we could be having.
At the start of this new year I ask you to consider: Are you limiting yourself because you’re buying into lies that say you don’t have a right to engage others by being you?
I’m writing this column on the eve of my birthday and so I’m reminded that life is both good but short. Don’t scare yourself into silence!
Please send your communication questions to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter: @jprweddings