I think everyone wonders how they are perceived by others. It’s a natural human curiosity, which I personally think is fueled by the media. We all know that the tabloid’s reports on celebs are usually bogus, so why are we so naive as to think that the impressions our peers have on us are accurate?
The first time I realised that people may see me in a different way from how I saw myself, was right at the end of my last year of high school. I’d just done my A Levels and everyone was having to write applications to Colleges and Universities. I had decided not to go, but was being forced to write long paragraphs about myself anyway, just to appease the teachers. (I think they hoped I’d change my mind, not realising how badly they’d warped my idea of the whole education system forever). So we had to fill out a little questionnaire to help us along our way. So I asked one of my classmates, and a good friend, how she had perceived me when she’d first met me. She said when she joined the school (first year of 6th form), she was scared of me. This surprised me a whole lot! To be fair I was, at that time, slipping into a rather deep depression, but I had still thought of myself as an approachable, fun loving good person. (In fact as I’m writing this, I’m sure there was something that Oprah did once about realising you can be a good person, but at the same time not be a nice person, and then admitting to yourself ‘I am not a nice person’.) Anyway, this really surprised me and sent me on my way to thinking hard about how others perceive me.
Another time this happened, was when I was 19 and I started to go out with one of my work friends, who quickly became as best mate. We would often just jump into her boyfriend’s car and drive off to other parts of the country on a whim. It was the first time I’d not really had anything else to do and a lot of cash to burn so we just went with the flow. At the time I’d be struggling hard with what I now know is an Anxiety Disorder. But I found that by just letting everything go and doing whatever came into our minds really released me from all of that. It was an amazingly freeing feeling. So much so, that my friends told me that I was the “most laid back” person they had ever met. Inside I found this hysterical. I think I am probably the most uptight and anal person they had ever met, but because they didn’t know the background and the internal stuff, they saw my relief and free feelings and perceived me as amazingly chilled. It was refreshing!
In my line of work, I have to be very careful about how I am perceived. I am a manager of people, a lot of them young, and for many of them they are experiencing their first job. I am very careful to try and keep a line (a thin line) between friend and manager. I find it kind of hard because most of these people turn into actual friends, so I have to sometimes flick a switch between friend and manager, very quickly. But I think my crew understand this and are able to see the whys and what fors. I hope they trust that when I do this it’s for a valid reason. And I think I’m, for the most part, perceived correctly by these people. I know my face reads exactly what I’m thinking (which I hate) and I think my colleagues are sympathetic to that.
But just yesterday I had a funny conversation with my work mates about another colleague who for some reason has taken to thinking what I say is gospel. We had been discussing a Christmas party and I had flicked through the brochure for a venue and expressed an interest. She had said she would probably get a room at the hotel, and I’d said not everyone could maybe afford it, and that my husband could even give one of them a lift home if she’d wanted to have a drink. The next day I find that she’d been preaching to my friend saying she wasn’t allowed to stay at the hotel and that I was giving her a lift home. Full stop. And also that we weren’t allowed to go to any other party because ‘Erin doesn’t want to’. This, other than being ridiculously funny and untrue, was puzzling. How did I all of a sudden become the queen of the Christmas party? So I immediately stripped all responsibility to organising the thing (which I hate anyway) to my said work mate. The fact that I had kept saying to her that many other venues would be coming into store with their leaflets to sell us their parties, obviously went over her head.
Now I know I sometimes come over a little strong and hot headed. I am aware of this, and sometimes I can use it to my benefit. And at no point am I going to squash my personality to please another person. But I do believe that I am able to mould by behaviour to my audience and choose which parts of my personality show in relevent situations. And it’s something I’m still working on.
I wonder what my obituary would say?