As others see us

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value of his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.”    Marcus Aurelius


Most of my life I’ve worried about what other people thought about me. Parents, teachers, friends, bosses, boyfriends – I’ve spent countless hours and an incredible amount of energy trying to be who other people wanted me to be. It never worked. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, I was always letting someone down.

I was told that I’m too smart, but also too naïve; too brash and outspoken, but also too shy. I’ve been characterized as someone who takes too many risks, as well as someone who is afraid to let go a little and enjoy life. I’ve been told I’m way too accommodating, yet also impossible to live with. Very accomplished, yet a complete failure.

Are you confused? So was I, for a while. And then I realized something very important.


They were all right.       And they were all wrong.


Each of these very well-meaning people in my life were trying to help me become a better person in their own way, but they were seeing me through the filter of their own personal values, preferences and experiences – not mine. They judged me based on the small slices they saw, not me in my totality. Their frame of reference included only the “me” they saw in relation to (and sometimes in reaction to) themselves.

Other people’s opinions can be valuable tools; they can give us insight on our own behaviors and actions by showing us how we appear from the “outside.” (Sometimes good, sometimes bad.) But the trick is to remember that these are just very brief reactions from very different perspectives, and not some ultimate and unchanging truth.

We all need to find a place in life where we feel comfortable with ourselves, our decisions, our chosen paths. Whether we’re talking about a career, a relationship, or a lifestyle, at the end of the day we’re the only ones who can judge what is best for us, and we are the ones who have to live with those choices. If we’re lucky, we choose wisely and end up happier for it.

Accept other people’s assessments of you with a grain of salt, and remember what really counts is what you think of yourself. Go ahead – trust your gut, go with your instincts, and follow your ideals even if everyone else tells you you’re crazy. After all, no one knows you better than you.

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photo by Nina Matthews

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The Fallacy of Failure

People don’t try new things because of a fear of failure. But what exactly does it mean to fail?

By definition, failure is “the condition or fact of not achieving the desired end.”  Fair enough. But who gets to decide what that desired end is? Your parents? Your boss? Your neighbor down the street? In practice we let the outside world dictate what counts as success or failure, but in truth YOU are the only one who can really make that call.

We put so much stock in lofty goals that the society at large establishes, but that sometimes don’t make sense for us as individuals. We don’t try because we are afraid that we won’t be the best, or the smartest, or the first. Odds are you won’t be the best or the smartest or the first in whatever you set out to do. That’s no excuse not to try.

Just like failure, success is also up to you to define. What if success was as simple as being really good at what you do? As simple as jumping the smaller hurdles along the way to a loftier goal? As simple as simply getting off the sidelines and giving it a shot? Would we be so afraid of failure if we actually made it harder to fail?

Pick your desired ends wisely, and failure is not an option.

Are You Creative?

Image by Myki RoventineIf someone asked you if you were creative, what would you say?

This is a question I posed recently to a bunch of friends and colleagues in various places.  And I was quite surprised at some of the answers I got.

Of course my wildly creative friends belted out and emphatic “YES!” and proceeded to tell me all about the projects they were working on or just finished or had in their head for the future. No surprises there – I already knew what they would say, and it was fun to get an update on where they were going.

A few others said that they were decidedly not creative. The surprising part for me was not that these people didn’t think of themselves as creative, but that they were quite happy with that.  They didn’t want to be creative; they were happy in their little box and didn’t really care to venture outside of it.  Of course, as a creative myself, I had a very hard time wrapping my head around this – not wanting to be creative? To me that would be like not wanting to breathe. But to each his own.

The one that really floored me was an old friend from college.  Probably one of the more creative people I know.  Ever since way-back-when he’s had a very sharp wit and a wicked sense of humor. At college he masterminded quite a bit of creative stuff, although admittedly the campus Powers That Be were usually not as appreciative of his inventiveness as the rest of us were.

So I asked him the no-brainer “are you creative” question and he said…

“No.”

“I might have been once, but now I don’t feel that’s true.”

Totally blind-sided me with that one. What?!?  That’s an answer I may have accepted from some people, but certainly not him. Really?? Just – poof – it’s gone??  It made me kind of sad to think that he had lost such a great part of himself somewhere along the way. (Or at least believed that he did.)  Is it even possible to “lose” creativity, or does it just get beaten into hiding by social conformity and rusty from disuse?

I don’t believe he really lost it, he just thinks he did.  Go find it dude, it’s in there somewhere.  Did you check in the garage…?

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So what would you answer to the question? Are you creative?