Let’s talk about reality for a bit, shall we? Reality is what’s real. It’s the truth of all existence. The funny thing is, we as human beings aren’t programmed to know jack-diddly about reality. Our thing is perception. When we look at an ice cream sundae, for example, our mind isn’t sending us this universal “ice cream sundae” that all mankind see when they look at this thing. What we get is our very own personalized perceived ice cream sundae. Our ice cream sundae is unlike anyone else’s. Imagine how these people would react to the treat:
Someone with a severe sweet tooth
Someone with severe diabetes
A health nut
A person who hasn’t eaten in days
Someone who’s lactose intolerant
The person who made the sundae
All six people would agree that this is indeed an ice cream sundae, but what that term means varies GREATLY.Other more intense examples of different levels of perception in action include people with colorblindness, or total blindness; people who believe the Holocaust never happened, religious fanatics. The point is, what is real and what we perceive to be real should never be mistaken for each other. Having said that, let’s look at these three “selves”:
- Your current self (according to you)
- Your current self (according to your social network)
- Your ideal self
By the way, there are TONS of other selves (your future self, past self, your self if you hadn’t turned left instead of right on the way to that party last night), but for now we’ll only care about these three. To repeat my past self, all three of these selves are perceptions and are, as such, prone to be REALLY off.
1. Your current self (according to you)
Think of those people who are so delusional as to who they are. We all know them.The slimy and gross guy who is convinced that he is God’s gift to women. The self-important actress with the chalkboard-screech voice who is 100% certain she’s destined for Broadway. Their confidence is admirable, but everything else is utter nonsense. Then we’ve got the incredibly talented people who, for some reason or another, don’t think they’re good enough; smart enough; pretty enough and therefore never have the confidence to reach the potential they have within. These examples are on the obvious side, but every single one of us has a set of perceived traits that are quite off the mark.
But what is “the mark”? In a world of perception, this is certainly a tricky question. After all, if everything is perception, how can we possibly know what “real” is? The short answer: we can’t. We can only take educated guesses at what the truth is and go from there. Some truths are obvious and almost impossible to refute: the law of gravity, aging, the existence of dogs…other things are not so simple: the existence of dark matter, ghosts, the wrong- or rightness of homosexuality. I’m sure I’ll tackle these scientific, metaphysical and moral subjects in near future, but for now let’s talk about you and how to get as close as humanly possible to the real you.
2. Your current self (according to your social network)
One of the crudest, but most important ways of discovering how close perceived self is from your true self, is through how you are perceived by the people around you. From birth we are told not to care what other people think of us. While that works very well from an individualist perspective, it’s not entirely correct. We are social creatures and as such what people think of us impacts our life and therefore is certainly something we should care about. As far as the world is concerned, what other people think of us IS who we are. They will treat us as they perceive us- not as we perceive ourselves. The genocidal dictator might see himself as a great champion of his people…certainly we do not. The talentless actress I mentioned before won’t be viewed as the next Bernadette Peters by the theatrical world. Examining the way others react to you; what they think of you, is a quick and dirty way of getting another perception yourself.
Of course, there are some HUGE risks involving this method of self-evaluation: First up, the dreaded “yes-men”. There are some people who are surrounded by a pack of people who will bend over backwards to tell them how great they are, supporting their every decision whether it be out of fear, greed, or pure admiration. These people have successfully bent their social world to mirror their self-perception, thus creating a safe bubble completely impervious to the truths and growth potential that a more diverse group would offer.
And how could we possibly forget the other end of the spectrum: those people who are, for one reason or another, surrounded by morons. Say there’s an island where every year, at the first full moon, a virgin must be sacrificed to appease their gods and ensure another year of good fortune and plentiful crop yields. One person decides that this tradition is wrong, inhumane, and she stands up against it. Obviously, this woman in this the right, but the other members of the tribe see her as a traitor. It’s this scenario that the cliche “Don’t care what other people are thinking” is referring to.
Basically, relying on what others say about you to truly know who you are is risky business…and not the smartest way to go about things, but never forget that the way you are perceived is the way you will be treated and must be taken into consideration in all you do.
3. Your ideal self.
Repeat after me: You CANNOT become the person you want to be if you do not know who you are.
Looking back to the crappy actress with delusions of theatrical superiority, because her self-perception is so off, she cannot become the Broadway starlett she so desires. Let’s say she had a potential to be truly great, all she needed was a few voice and acting lessons. In her current mindset, she is already a fantastic singer and actor, so lessons are out of the question.
Then there’s the guy who is attractive and gifted, but doesn’t see himself that way. In this instance, he is so blinded by his low self-worth that he’s convinced that his ideal self is impossible. Or maybe he’s aiming too low. In both instances, faulty self-perception ruins opportunity for becoming the ideal.
If the opinions of others are a mixed bag when it comes to knowing yourself, our own perceptions could be just as volatile, and the ideal self is of no use UNTIL you know yourself, then how the heck do we figure out who we are?!
For starters, let’s take a crack at the people in our social network. How do they interact with you? Do they constantly shower you with praise? Do they think everything you say is a joke? Do they look for reasons to hate you? Once you’ve gathered answers from diverse groupings of your life (family, friends, coworkers, teammates etc…) it’s time to ask yourself, “What do they have to gain by thinking of you this way?” Once you’ve reached your results, take the answers that primarily focus on the other party getting something out of you (attention, money, pain etc…) and throw them away. Then take the answers that focus on giving something TO you (advice, training, critique etc…) and ask yourself, “Why do they feel this way?” The answer to this final question will get you to see yourself through the eyes of someone who has your best interests in mind; it is a foundation to figuring out your truest self.
Subject: The Yes-Man.
Question: How does he interact with you?
Answer: He agrees with everything I suggest.
Question: “hat does he have to gain by thinking of you this way?
Answer: I am his boss. He says ‘yes’ because he doesn’t want to upset me. He doesn’t want to get fired. He wants to keep his job.
Verdict: The Yes-Man is saying “yes” for himself, not for you, and thus his opinion is irrelevant in this exercise.
Subject: The Mentor.
Question: How does she interact with you?
Answer: She offers guidance and coaching in forming and achieving my goals.
Question: What does she have to gain by thinking of you this way?
Answer: Nothing, really. She just wants what’s best for me.
Verdict: The Mentor’s primary focus is to better you and therefore her opinion is quite relevant, because it is for YOU.
Question: Why does she feel this way?
Answer: Because she sees my potential to become something more. Because she wants me to succeed; she believes I can succeed.
Example #2 provides us with a beneficial relationship from within one’s social network. First, we’ll put this dialogue in the context of the bad actress. The mentor tells her that she’s not as great as she seems; that she needs practice or she’ll never make it. This may be hard for her to hear, but it’s coming from an honest and compassionate place and therefore should be considered…and rightfully so. On the other hand, let’s return to the island where virgins are being slaughtered. The mentor of the person who stands up against this act begs her to adhere to tradition. Sure, the mentor’s advice is coming from a caring place (she’s trying to convince the person that she is doing what she believes to be the right thing)…but the advice is misguided. Like I said, any info gained from social networks is a mixed bag.
Fortunately, there’s a little thing called “extending your worldview”. Extending one’s worldview is important because it forces a person to remove themselves from their usual area of thought and see how other cultures might view you. If you live in a small town, look to a big city. Or vice versa. If you live in one country, look to another. Look to areas that are known for their diversity and open-mindedness; where they are not governed by hatred, fear, or a severe control of freedoms of speech; for these places have themselves used an extended worldview to evolve themselves into progressive and welcoming places. New York City, London, Rio De Janeiro, to name a few. The anti-virgin-killer, those in support of gay rights, of racial equality, sexual equality, would find many friends.
Lastly, never underestimate the power of your gut. The fact of the matter is that most people know EXACTLY who they are; but they hide behind a mask out of the fear of embodying their true selves. They willingly alter themselves so that both they and the people around them can perceive them as something different than they truly are. What’s to be afraid of? Lots, actually. Losing the support of loved ones. Losing stability; easy answers. Having to start over again. In certain situations people might even fear for their lives. Whatever the fear, know that you will NEVER be happy unless you’re honest with yourself and your surroundings about who you are. So listen to your friends, your world, and, most importantly your heart. Don’t fear what others think of you, but consider it, and fear only what you will not become if you continue to be something you’re not.
And for all those who’ve got it all figured out…rock on and dominate!