Huh? What does that mean? Well, I’m saying find out from others what’s up with you. If you’re anything like me, this will probably put your stomach in knots. Realistically, we (I include myself in that) don’t always want to know what others think of us, much less go seek out their opinion of who we are. Believe me, this is one of those things that may seem to be a little difficult right out the gate, but could change your life for the better. As you read this you might think that I’m completely out of my tree too. That’s okay. There’s nothing mandatory here. If you want to do this, fine; if not, that’s fine also. I’ve done this myself several times and I know it works.
Using myself as an example, I have this idea of who I am to myself. This idea exists only one place – in my own mind. Who I really am in this world is how I occur to others. Being perfectly honest, who I am to myself is a girl who is always flying by the seat of her pants, winging it most of the time. Sitting on a bench in front of a restaurant waiting for one of my girlfriends to show up for lunch, I try to calm down. In a rush to be on time because I have it that I’m always running late, I threw on a little chambray mini skirt, white t-shirt and black flip-flops. Without styling my hair, I put it in a ponytail and put a white baseball cap over it and left the house with no makeup on. When my girlfriend, Janet, finally shows up she approaches me sitting there on the bench and says, “There’s my friend who always looks so put together!” Her view of me is so different than the view I have of myself. Through a leadership class I took, one of the assignments was to do an assessment such as the one I’m suggesting and record their responses. The results were so revealing.
I compiled a list of trusted friends and relatives who both know me well and whose opinion I tremendously value. Each was given the opportunity to either decline to answer the questions or to proceed with my “interview,” both without any judgement or defensiveness on my part. With their permission, I asked the following questions:
- What do you see are my strengths?
- What do you see are my weaknesses?
- In what ways can you count on me?
- What can you count on me not to do?
- Who am I to our community/family?
- Who am I to you?
Whether it was a friend or family member, what they told me was remarkably similar. People know me to be honest, reliable, having my act together, late (dad even said, “last one out the door.”) smart and fiercely independent. I found everyone had trouble saying anything bad. However, what came up a lot is that I’m “perfect” to the point of being unapproachable. The challenge for me then became how do I work on being not perfect, especially when I believe that I’m anything but perfect, so that I can welcome those who approach me? Ugh!
Another example is a girl that I know who’s smart, cute and successful. Yet, every time she opens her mouth she’s doing one of three things: expressing her desperation for a date, criticizing others openly and loudly behind their backs or sharing with whoever will listen her vast knowledge of everything. It’s easy for me and everyone else to see why this girl has trouble getting a date. She has no clue. If she were willing to hear it, what difference would it make for her to know how she occurs to the people around her?
The last example is a mother who is generous and loving to her family. For years she’s been going through her life heartbroken from her lack of intimacy with them and she feels disconnected and shut-out from them. She can’t figure out why they won’t include her in certain family activities. Listening to her talk, her only tone of voice is yelling and persists at imposing her criticism and opinions regardless of the topic. When she is finally able to understand their point of view and how she occurs to them, she is able to have deep connected, relationships with them that she never had. She finally gets to have her family; they finally get to have her.
Whether you choose to do this or not is up to you. It takes a great deal of courage to be willing to open yourself up to hearing others’ honest opinion on you. There’s a tremendous power the comes from knowing some areas of your life that need work, especially when you have no prior knowledge of it. Should you choose to have conversations like these with the people in your life, you have got to follow these guidelines in order for this to be productive for you and safe for them:
- Give them the opportunity and freedom to say “no” without judgement,
- Remind the person you’re talking that it’s safe to tell you the truth,
- Tell them that you will not hold anything against them and mean it,
- Choose people you trust to tell you the truth and whose opinions you value,
- Keep the questions simple,
- Ask only a few questions,
- When you’re done thank them for contributing to your life,
- Without allowing yourself to be hurt or offended by anything they said, use the information constructively,
- Figure out how you can use the feedback they gave you to supercharge an area of your life where you’ve been stalled.
As I said, doing this will definitely take some courage, but it is totally worth it. My friends and I are able to make a joke about my being so “perfect” such that it really takes the edge off it. It has also given me the opportunity to address it straight away with people I meet for the first time, putting them at ease. When it comes to your assessment, it never hurts to ask. Who knows what doors it could open for you?