When I turned 30, I asked my friends to provide a one word description of my best feature or my most prominent characteristic. I was curious about what they appreciated about my personality and the way I acted. While I considered myself fairly self-aware, I wanted to know if my friends saw me the same way I saw myself.
Before I started to get responses, I expected that the answers would fall into two or three broad categories. In my own mind, I was smart, I was funny, and I was friendly.
Related: Listen to an episode of the Intellectual Roundtable Podcast, where Lee and Michael discuss this question: ‘How do you think others see you?’ We also discuss another question as well, ‘How can we maintain wonder?’
Once the answers started to roll in, however, I was surprised. In all, I asked maybe 30 people, and I got 30 different answers. While I didn’t expect that every response would be different, the thing that really astonished me was the wide variety of answers. Loyalty, eyes, conversation, creativity, honesty, goofiness. They did not easily fit into the categories I envisioned.
Different people value different things. It took me 30 years to learn this lesson, but it was a major step in expanding my empathy skills. Now I regularly try to view how other people might see the world, including how I fit into it.
I also learned something else from this exercise: every relationship I have is unique. While I might be a constant to my relationships, each person I interact with brings their own personality, their own experiences, their own vantage point to our mutual association.
Which brings me to this week’s question: How do you think others see you? How would you like them to see you? What can you do to change how others see you? Are you externally self-aware?
Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? What do we have in common? What makes you you? How do you judge yourself?
4 thoughts on “How Do You Think Others See You?”
I consider myself pretty self-aware. However, this question brings up the astute observation that the answers from others would be given through the lenses of who they are, how they see things, and their unique relationships with me. That said, I need to start answering this question with how I see myself, because I can’t easily represent where others are coming from in their relationships with me. Or, at least, the representations would be greatly varied.
And so …
People who know me will almost immediately know that I love my wife bunches. They will get that I have a passion for heirloom gardening and taking close up pictures of the plants and the yields it produces. They also will know that I love yoga and distance running, but haven’t practiced either in awhile. They will understand that I have a deep passion for economic and social justice. They will know that I love U2, Wendell Berry, and taking politics. They will also gather that I love to travel. They will know that my bonds of friendship are few, but deep. However, they will see that I love social media, and it is one way that I form new friendships.
In a general sense, I see myself as an awkward person with a weird sense of humor. Some people get that sense of humor; others simply think of me as strange. I could really care less if people think of me as strange; I relish the relationships where people share my sense of humor, or at least play along with it.
I am an introvert. At work I must act extroverted. So I guess I am lucky that I have deeply-held convictions, and I act on these beliefs. That means people know relatively quickly what’s important to me and why. However, when I’m not in the work world, where I find it easy to represent who I am regarding issues of justice, I am deeply-introverted. I find conversations difficult to sink into. My approach is to ask people questions because most people like to talk about themselves, and I am genuinely interested in their answers.
I am a kind-hearted, sensitive guy. And with that I often put a little too much stock in how other see me. This may be my greatest weakness.
I am an authentic and transparent guy. Early on — probably too early on — people will know that I struggle with anxiety and depression. To some, this will simply become apparent; to others I will, quite honestly, simply let it be known.
I think if people were confined to answering this question with just a few words, here is what they would say. Michael: is passionate, transparent, weird (but funny), inquisitive, and stubborn. I love: my wife, working for justice, politics, staying fit, heirloom gardening, photography, and travel.
I think people see me as an avid gardener, kind, friendly and generous with my time and resources. I think people generally appreciate my sense of humor, usually situational and sometimes dry.
I am an extroverted introvert. I can be, and am, very social and outgoing, especially with individuals and groups that I trust. That being said, my extrovert batteries drain very quickly. They usually last for a couple of hours, enough to attend a gathering or event, though I usually become more withdrawn and quieter as the event goes on.
What people don’t see is the constant chronic pain that I deal with, nor the depression that often accompanies it. They don’t see that it takes me twice as long as them to complete seemingly simple tasks, nor that at the end of the day, I sometimes have trouble walking. I try hide or downplay this as I can’t change these aspects of myself, and I want to participate in life. So, I generally push through the pain, as best I can, in public. I also know my limits and try to prioritize, so that important things get done first.
It’s an interesting question, but it’s challenging because it hinges on what it means to “see” someone. Certainly, a lot of people might describe me at the most superficial level: the roles I fill, the work I do, the hobbies I have, the positions I have been outspoken about. But, this is kind of reductive. To paraphrase Chris Columbus’ script from the Breakfast Club: “You see me as you want to see me – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.”
It’s hard to answer this question in the abstract. I could hazard a guess that would be somewhere in the ballpark for people I have close relationships with (although I’m sure there are probably some big surprises there as well), but I don’t think there’s one overall way that people see me. We barely know ourselves and most of what we think we know about other people includes a lot of projection. I’ve long believed that what we admire in other people is what we either admire or aspire to in ourselves. What we despise in other people is what we either despise or seek to avoid in ourselves.
Not much of an answer, but it’s what I’ve got.
To some extent, we can see in a person’s facial expression what they think of us. In reading about the brain, I learned that a large part of it is devoted to recognizing faces. We respond to faces emotionally, particularly the eyes. Obviously, this is not an exact science. And some people are better at reading people’s expressions than others are.