Assigned Work: Impressions

This May, I’m committing myself to writing student-assigned topics. Some of them might be cut-and-dried, some of them might be bears. And some of them will reveal themselves in the writing. (It’s also Tuesday, which means I’m posting as part of the Slice of Life challenge!)

Today’s assignment: How is your vision of yourself different from others’ vision of you?


Wow.

Another bear.

Life: One big fractured fairy tale

I’ve circled around and around on this one. My gut keeps pulling me back to my latest “one little word:” dissonance. That’s where I’ve been living lately. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still scanning the Classifieds for more comfortable digs. I’m hoping to pack my bags and move on, but Life has signed an extended lease on the property.

Dissonance best describes how my self-concept differs from the way others see me. I don’t think I can ever be accurate in my knowledge of how I appear to others. There will always be separate, and sometimes conflicting, points of view.

We all try to find our balance between self-acceptance and self-improvement. And in that effort at being a better person, well…it’s hard to say what others perceive.

I’m a perfectionist. I set high standards for myself, and I’m a tough judge. When things take a wrong turn, my first inclination is to look within myself for my part in things. So when I consider how others see me, I’m more likely to bias toward the negative, imagining that others grow tired of or impatient with my shortcomings. In some ways, it’s self-protective. If I see and label my faults before others do, I can beat them to the punch and shield myself from that discouragement. That way, when other people express concerns or complaints with me, I’m also prepared to own it. Yeah, I know I’m not great at that. It’s something I’m working on…

Luckily, I have a small group of people around me who insist on seeing the best within me. They’re the folks who remind me of my idealism and potential and love and compassion. They’re the ones who recognize when that dissonance is at play in unhealthy ways. They’re the ones I call my “mental chiropractors,” as they give me much-needed attitude adjustments when the situation demands it.

Have you ever seen yourself on video or heard your voice recorded, and thought, “Is THAT how I look?” “Is THAT how I sound? Yikes!”

Of course you have. We all have.

But here’s the thing. I never think that about anyone I see on video or audio. They all sound normal to me. And yet, every. Single. One of us. Looks at ourselves on that same clip and shudders.

That’s dissonance, friends. It blurs our vision. Most of the time we live deeply within our own narrative structures, our own egos. We spend most of our time on ourselves as the protagonist of our own stories, seldom stopping to consider that we’re supporting characters to others and, in some cases, background extras. We are all forging ahead on our own paths, making our way through forests and deserts and across oceans. We are all figuring out this world and our place in it.

So. What’s the difference between my vision of myself, and others’ vision of me?

At the heart of it, I suppose, is the question of how much others’ vision of us matters. And how much of that we will allow to define our self-worth.

Let me know when you figure that out, folks. You can sell it for a billion bucks.

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7 Responses to “Assigned Work: Impressions”

  1. Tim Gels Says:

    You really have had some fun topics, haven’t you? I appreciate how you handled this one, though I’m wondering how much of the question was a result of the asker’s wondering the same thing. It’s a valid question, and one that is (oftentimes, I think) more important the younger one is.

    It’s good to have that circle of friends you have, and I’m happy to have a few of them myself. We are the protagonist of our own story, but I like how you reminded us that we’re part of many other stories as well. I haven’t got an answer for your closing questions, but since you asked, I’ll be sure to let you know when I figure it out!

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      Yes. Fun. Lots of “fun.” So many opportunities for introspection, too! As for the asker, it’s kind of my hope that my students will read these posts and find validation in knowing that they’re not alone with these questions, these worries.

      And again. When you figure that stuff out, you can bottle it and sell it. Make a boatload of cash and build a nature center named after you!

  2. arjeha Says:

    I often wonder where we learn to be harder on ourselves than others are. Where did we learn to focus on our negative traits rather than our positive? As you say, this is something we all tend to do. Maybe it is the reason we need others in our lives so that they point out the positives we tend to ignore in ourselves.

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      It is DEFINITELY part of our programming. Perhaps it’s part of the whole self-accountability culture, this push to look within. I mean, we’re the only ones we have control over, so maybe it makes sense to focus there? Still, it comes at a cost. And yes, you’re right. We all need others in our lives to reflect the good in us.

  3. Fran Haley Says:

    Wait – are you writing about you or me?!?!? All I can say is you NAILED this, and that we are so cut from the same piece of cloth, the grain going in the very same direction (and I see us both trying to smooth out the parts that have been “mussed”). Dissonance/cognitive dissonance is an idea that’s intrigued me for some time; high levels of discomfort lead us to find ways to re-establish a sense of equilibrium; we can suffer or we can grow from it … can I just say, #WhyIWrite. Isn’t it sad, though, to think how it’s such a risk just to be oneself in this life, not allowing others to define our self-worth. It’s kind of like writing – always my go-to metaphor, imagine! If you want to write, write; no one has to love it but you, and that’s all that matters. The rest is bonus.

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      YES. This vulnerability. I know it’s the only true path to growth, but the whole idea of vulnerability is how open it leaves us to hurt and loss. Felt BOTH of those deeply and recently. And I know I can’t live otherwise, I know I can’t exist happily behind walls, but OUCH. As for the reminder that no one needs to love my writing but me? All I can say is thank you. THANK YOU for that reminder, friend. ❤

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