I was five when I was taught that perception, not truth, was reality.
The lesson was that it did not matter what I said, did or meant. It mattered how what I said or did was perceived by others.
That’s a young age to discover that my truth was not the TRUTH.
It took a while to sink in. To realize that facts and figures are likely absolutes, but thoughts and feelings – while they may have certainty in my own mind or that of others – are not.
Searching for the truth
In the last few weeks, after considering how easy it is to believe the bad things and reject the good, I’ve been paying more attention. To my words and others’. To what our words reveal about our perception, and whether or not that perception is real.
I have listened to friends criticize their intelligence, weight, beauty, capability and skills. I’m flabbergasted, as I tend to hold them in high regard in the areas where they think they fall short. They are equally perplexed by my own self-judgment.
Re-evalutaing my truth
I’ve been working diligently over the last three months to get back to my pre-surgery fitness levels.
Along the way, co-workers, friends and family have been very supportive. They share how healthy they think I look. For them, this is likely a huge improvement over the woman who could barely walk upright and who was regularly in visible pain.
They didn’t perceive me as overweight or frumpy as I struggled to find anything comfortable to wear. They didn’t see me as less effective because I was at the mercy of doctors’ visits and couldn’t control my own body. I did.
My perception is my reality. And my perception has been that the work I’ve done is not enough. That I’m not there yet. So I caveat my “thank you” with “but I still have more to go.”
In my head, I haven’t hit my goal. There are still flaws to fix. Challenges to overcome.
Is my truth the truth?
Which is the truth? For better or worse, they both are. To others, I look healthy and fit. To me, I still have work to do. Each perception is reality to someone. But it is our individual perception that drives our relationships, interactions and behaviors. Our perception of ourselves, and of those around us.
While having a high bar and setting challenging goals is a good thing – it’s what’s successfully driven me and endless others since forever – a negative perception can erode our self-confidence and the very success we aim to achieve.
To change our perception, we have two choices. Change our setting or change our perspective.
Reconsider the setting
Driving around in my ATV over the weekend, I saw a dandelion. It’s a weed and can be considered troublesome by many. However, in this moment, I saw beauty in the invasive object.
In the right setting, even a weed can be beautiful. Sometimes, an environment change may be all that’s needed to realize our potential gifts. A different role, team, desk…even small changes matter.
A co-worker recently shared that when her manager moved her desk to another floor, near the window, it was like she got a promotion. There was no other change, but it lifted her spirits and injected new life into how she perceived her job.
Putting ourselves in a different setting can change how we see ourselves.
Shift the perspective
The other opportunity is changing our perspective. Sometimes, we just need to decide something about ourselves or someone else and it may as well be true.
If we think someone has potential, our interactions with them will help reveal and realize that potential. The same can be said of ourselves. It was Henry Ford that said (loosely) – If we think we can or think we can’t, we’re right.
I often find myself in conversations where I offer a different take on the same situation. Having a second perspective suddenly opens up other possibilities. What was once black or white may now be grey.
If we think rigidly about ourselves or others, getting another perspective may provide us the space to consider an alternate truth.
Finding a new truth
The work I’ve done over the last few months has resulted in the joy of being able to “shop” my own closet…discovering items long-since forgotten. Rather than thinking that I’m falling short of my goal, I’m enjoying where I am, knowing I’ll get to where I want to be.
I may not be in the best shape of my life, but I’m healthier and fitter than I’ve been in a long time. I’m able to function without pain and am celebrating my return to 100% wellness by competing in my first triathlon this weekend.
I’m changing my setting – providing an opportunity to create an interim success. I’m also changing my perspective – seeing that interim success as the accomplishment it is.
How we talk about ourselves reveals our perception. Regardless of whether that perception is real, we make it real because we believe it.
If that talk isn’t positive, it’s time to find a new narrative, and create a new perception.
After all, life isn’t about being perfect. It’s about being perfectly human, as our flaws are what make us interesting. If a weed can have a moment of beauty, so can we all.
We are often our own worst critics. So when someone else chimes in with their own criticism, it’s as if we expected it. It reaffirms our fears.
As a result, It can be difficult to take a compliment. To say thank you without thinking “but”.
If we’re not careful, we can fall into the trap of what we didn’t get done. Focusing on the mistakes we made instead of being proud of our accomplishments. Of what we were able to do.
While it may be easier to believe the bad stuff, because it sounds like the fears running around our heads, that doesn’t make it true.
To make it easier to believe the good stuff, we have to flip our thinking. While humility is good, self-sabotage is not. We have to periodically remind ourselves of our strengths. Of how much we rock.
The next time someone offers a compliment, pause before deflecting. Embrace the feeling and sentiment to say thank you. Resist the urge to argue or mentally check off what could have been done differently.
Over time, the good stuff will be easier to believe.
As many of you may know, the last year has been a bit of a health roller coaster.
A year ago, I started getting severe migraines. The resolution meant adjusting medications that had been stable for almost a decade.
It didn’t take long before I was on bed rest, preparing for two surgeries, and then more bed rest.
Coming out of the surgeries, I felt great. I was able to walk long distances, some days up to 9 or more miles. But it only lasted until I returned to work.
Sometimes what’s good for you feels bad
I fought the new pain. I tried walking. In January, I got back on my bicycle, determined to return to my former level of fitness.
I only made things worse.
Six weeks ago, I could barely walk. After 10 minutes on a treadmill, I was in severe discomfort. At 30 minutes, I had to stop, as the pain would become excruciating.
So I quit.
I stopped doing everything.
A Mentor is His or Her Own Hero
There is no understating the impact that our managers and mentors can have on our future. A hero, who’s been through the battles facing us, and can help guide our way.
Yet, this is our story. Not theirs. When it comes to our lives and careers, the only hero that can save us is in the mirror.
“And they say that a hero can save us. I’m not gonna stand here and wait.”
We Must Be Our Own Hero
While having a caring and insightful manager, or a trusted mentor, makes our journey easier, waiting for one only sets us back. Lacking a mentor? Working for a less-than perfect boss? Then save yourself.
I know the type of work that I do, and want to do, is valuable to any company. However, it’s not something that has a standard job description. I have been building my own map for years.
As a result, I have frequently written my own objectives, reviews and development plans. Though I have received feedback throughout the years, not all of it has been actionable, clear, or productive relative to where I want to go.
Waiting Will Not Get Us Far
If I had waited for someone else to guide me, I wouldn’t have gotten very far.
Instead, I found my own path. When I hit a wall, I considered who I might know that could provide another source of input. They might not have been mentors or managers at the time, but several have become trusted advisors.
While leaders are responsible for the growth and development of their teams, as individuals, we are each ultimately accountable for our own lives and success.
Should our manager help develop us? Of course. Will that always happen, when and how we need to meet our career and life goals. No.
It’s fall in New England, and there are certain activities that are a must-do before the season is over.
There is funnel cake at the fair, apple picking, and a warm apple cider donut or two. The sights and smells of fall are not limited to leaf peeping, though that’s certainly on the list as well.
One of the other treats I’ve come to enjoy, that I hadn’t experienced before moving here, is a good corn maze. More and more farms are carving elaborate paths through their corn, with clues to help children young and old find their way.
A few weeks ago, a friend and I decided to tackle a three-part maze at Coppal House Farm in Lee, NH.
During the course of our journey, I couldn’t help but notice how we worked together and how it changed as the day went on.
My friend and I just recently started hanging out away from work. We’ve known each other for a while, but this was new territory.
Our budding friendship was obvious in how we got started. Each of us wanted to engage the other in decision making. At least at first.
We were prompted with questions about honey bees and tried to determine who had the best answer. As we progressed, so did the debates. Neither of us knew the answers for sure, so each of us picked a side and played devil’s advocate to reason them out.
“People may forget what you said, but they will never forget the way you made them feel.”
Carl W. Buehner
There will be times when we find ourselves in less than optimal situations. There are steps we must go through to accept where we are and move forward in a positive manner.
Often, our first steps are to feel the disappointment, anger or frustration for where we are. Then, we start using words that express an acceptance we do not yet feel. Eventually, we internalize our new reality, living that acceptance and letting our negative emotions go.
We think and act until we can become. This is not “fake it ‘till you make it.” Instead, it’s making a concerted effort to change, knowing it will come over time.
During this evolution, however, there can be a mismatch between our words, actions and feelings.
The risk of misalignment
People can sense how we really feel. What we really believe in. Even if our words say something different.
When it comes to conversing with a stakeholder, customer or employee, when our words and feelings do not match, they may suppose we are lying, eroding trust.
For example, we may feel disappointment, anger or frustration about our current role, yet we want to be considered in a positive light for a new one. In spite of our best intentions, the negative emotions are what we project, in contradiction to our wish to be seen positively by an interviewer. This disconnect can sabotage our aspirations.
To be viewed genuinely, we need to align our words and feelings. Yet, it may take time to get to that place.