I was surprised recently when a new friend told me he felt intimidated when we first met. He felt intimidated by me, because I knew who I was and exactly what I believed. And while I was flattered by his first impression of me, I was also shocked.
No matter how many times people tell me that I come off as friendly, calm, and fun to be around, I don’t see it.
I don’t see it, because there is a disconnect between the way the world sees me and they way I see myself. And it’s a disconnect I’ve seen a lot of successful people struggle with.
Growing up, people mostly described me as argumentative, and I was. I often disagreed with people, found fault in their reasoning, and challenged their ways of thinking. I was as right about as often as I was annoying.
At some point I realized that my attitude wasn’t winning me any charm awards. I worked to change it, but I was always afraid I’d slip into my old habits. I spent a large part of my 20’s worrying that I’d come off as overly analytical, too intense, or uncomfortably awkward.
More than anything I wanted to belong. I wanted people to like me and feel comfortable with me. I wanted them to think, “I want to be around that guy”. And because I made an effort to mature, to connect, and to communicate I got better.
Nowadays, most people wouldn’t describe me as argumentative or too intense, and my clients appreciate the ways I challenge their ways of thinking so that they can improve their lives and their businesses.
The only problem is that while I’ve done a great job changing how others see me, I never got around to changing how I see myself. Instead of seeing myself as friendly and confident, I still see myself through the lens of who I used to be.
I’m still afraid that I’ll come off as needy, intense, argumentative, or awkward, and because of this I’m constantly worried and checking in to see what others think of me. And while most people don’t have any idea that I’m doing this, it drains me. It’s tiring to constantly manage how other people perceive me.
But I still do it, because I’m afraid I’ll slip back into being a person I tried to leave a long time ago.
More and more recently I’ve been realizing why this doesn’t work. The more I try to manage, the less natural I act. The more I try to impress, the less impressive I am. And so I’ve begun to work on letting go of how people see me. This is scary, but also deeply satisfying.
No matter how aware, relaxed, and confident you are, there will always be a disconnect from how you see yourself and the way the world sees you, because perception is always occurring through a lens.
So what how can you show up as your best self again and again?
Simply by letting go of trying to manage what others see. By letting go of the echoes of who you once were. By letting go of the fears you have that other people won’t like you.
Instead of focusing on how the light shines on you, focus on how it shines on someone else instead.
What matters isn’t how other people see us but whether we take the time to see other people.