Navigating the treacherous landscape that is social interaction is an incredibly complex tast.
It’s almost guaranteed that, at some point, we’re going to run into another human and we have to know how to interact with them so we emerge from the other side emotionally and physically unharmed.
There’s a lot of rules to remember:
- Don’t interrupt others while they’re talking.
- Let others go in front of you.
- Say please or you’ll look rude.
- Say thank you or you’ll seem ungrateful.
- Hold the door for others.
- Don’t say anything that could come off as offensive, derogatory, critical, presumptuous, assuming, pretentious…as a matter of fact it’s best to try to refrain from speaking altogether.
- Don’t dress in a way that draws unnecessary attraction to yourself.
- Don’t make any movements that might draw unnecessary attraction to yourself.
- Avoid eye contact with the homeless. If you do happen to make eye contact, pretend you always intended on giving money and smile about it.
- Try not to do anything that will make anyone upset with you.
- Apologize even when you’re not sure what you’re supposed to be sorry for.
- Just to be safe, try to feel sorry all the time, even when there’s nothing to be sorry about.
- Don’t do anything that might embarrass your family.
The list goes on and on, it’s a wonder we can get anything done while trying to remember everything we’re supposed to do when interacting with another human.
It’s no surprise by the time we reach adolescence we’re afraid to make a move for fear of social repercussions. It’s true that most of the points above are simple ways to show respect for mankind. But is it possible that we take it too far? We’re so busy placating everyone around us we forget that we are people too. We also exist don’t we?
Mastering the intricacies of polite social interaction is essential, yes; but so is mastering the art of being you.
It’s too easy to forget that you have the same rights everyone else does. You spend far to much time serving others at your own expense.
So long have you gone without recognizing your own presence on this Earth that you don’t even know who you are anymore.
You are whatever others say you are or expect you to be. That’s how you’ve survived. That’s the way we are taught to live.
I’d like to offer you a different way.
There is a way to be you without totally disregarding others. You do intend to live on Earth don’t you? Life will be a lot easier for you if you know how to manage your fellow Earthlings. However, you might as well not be alive if you’re not going to spend your time here as yourself.
If you want to stop being an impostor, this is for you.
Respect Your Opinion
This is not about giving the world the finger and thoughtlessly marching on to bring to fruition your plans for world domination. Other people have just as much right to an opinion as you do.
They also have just as much of a right to be wrong.
If you want to be a certain way, do a certain thing, or otherwise behave outside of the norm, you’re going to get a reaction. That’s guaranteed. The choice you have is to decide whether their opinion is more important than your opinion.
If you act against yourself what you’re essentially saying is this:
What I think isn’t as important as what they think.
You lose respect for yourself and your self-esteem suffers leading to a vicious cycle of disrespect and a deteriorating self-image.
Instead of assuming they hold some kind of magic knowledge you have yet to come across, remember that they will never know you as well as you know you. Remember that they have a right to be wrong; they have a right to be flawed.
Don’t hold it against them. They don’t mean any harm. They’re just trying to survive: just like you. It’s possible they think your unconventional way of thinking is a threat to their way of life or a criticism to how they live.
Refrain from immediately reacting with anger or humiliation.
Pause, think, breathe. Forgive them for being wrong, smile, and continue to be you.
Build Trust In yourself
If you’ve spent a long time ignoring yourself, you have a lot of relationship building to do.
Don’t expect to trust yourself immediately. You’ve neglected your right to be you for so long that, subconsciously, you’re going to be afraid of getting put on the back-burner again.
Similarly, if you’ve spent less time making your own decisions and more time making the decisions others wanted you to make you’re going to be unsure of your capability to make good decisions and have good opinions about who you are and what you do.
Like everything else, the answer is to start small.
Start with little decisions like what you want for dinner, where you want to go for breakfast after your morning run, etc. They don’t have to be life-changing, monumental decisions at first. Get used to the idea of being in charge and build confidence in your ability to do what’s right for you.
Eventually you’ll get addicted to the feeling of being true to yourself and the belief that you know what’s right for you and you can put it into action.
Manage Your Ideals
You are also a barrier between staying true to yourself and turning your back against who you want to be.
Your own beliefs and the beliefs you’ve accepted from others are so intertwined and tangled that you could be sabotaging yourself without even knowing it.
When you make a decision that gives you anxiety, doesn’t make you feel quite right, or just doesn’t sit well in general but you don’t know why, that’s a clue that your decision isn’t based on what you truly believe.
Do you have an ideal of the person you’re supposed to be according to everyone else’s evaluations and judgments?
What ‘shoulds’ are you trying to live by and where did they come from?
Is it possible that being you is actually ok?
A Word On Comparison
Maybe you’ve evaluated your ideals and decided they all reflect what you really want and you need to do some work to get there. Before you start on your ‘self-improvement’ journey, make sure you’re not trying to be like someone else.
It’s ok to model others that were successful before you. If you’re a funny person and you decide to quit your teaching job to be a comedian, it’s ok for you to use another comedian as a model for who you want to be.
Just remember that you’re never going to be them. You can only be you.
Remember that comparing yourself to them is not only harmful, it’s fundamentally flawed.
You don’t have enough information to compare yourself to them. You only see what they want you to see, what they project to the world. Most of that stuff is good.
On the other hand, you know everything about yourself: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the unspeakable. You’re never going to measure up to that perfect image, simply because it doesn’t exist.
What you see is an illusion and that’s ok. I wouldn’t want everyone walking around sharing their ugly and unspeakable with everyone they meet. It’s just important not to get trapped by the image.
It’s Not Even About You
The most ridiculous thing about this whole situation is their opinions are never really about you. What they want you to do and how they want you to behave have nothing to do with who you are in reality.
It has everything to do with who they want you to be and how you should act to make them the most comfortable.
Being different makes them uncomfortable. There’s no prescribed course of action they can take when interacting with you, they don’t know anything about how your future might turn out, and, most alarming, it opens up possibilities for them they never considered.
If there are more possibilities for them they might feel regret at not taking them, or resentment at being forced to reevaluate their situation in life to account for all of these new possibilities.
No, no. Best to keep the door shut so they’re nice and comfortable in the known.
The best way to do that is to keep your doors shut too.
In this case, it’s really not you; it’s them.
Getting Through The Discomfort
Finally, the habit that ruins even the greatest of men: avoidance of pain.
We will go to extraordinary measures to avoid feeling uncomfortable. Don’t want to sweat and exert effort even for an hour? Sit on the couch! Hate the way broccli tastes? Eat fried chicken instead! Don’t want to look crazy in front of your family and friends? Die a slow death at a miserable job! Hate rejection? Be alone forever! Afraid of public speaking? Death is preferable!
It’s seriously astounding how far we’ll go to prevent even the smallest amounts of discomfort. It’s actually a little insane, objectively speaking.
The reality is if you can endure just a little discomfort, you can accomplish more in a year than you ever dreamed you could in a lifetime. Last week I talked about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable in regards to finances, but the same concept applies here.
Get comfortable with being judged in ways that don’t make you feel comfortable. Get comfortable with making hard decisions. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable feeling of going against someone else’s wishes to fulfill yourself.
A problem is that we like to check out and not think and we do this on auto pilot. We just act in a way that removes us from discomfort without even thinking about it. We don’t let our minds stray into the uncomfortable zone so because then a choice presents itself and we have to face that we’re choosing the path of least resistance.
Start to become more aware of your actions. Just begin by identifying the times you went on automatic and chose the comfortable route. Just identify them. That’s all. Identify that feeling you get a split second before you decide the road is to hard for you travel.
That feeling you get right before you want to voice your opinion but decide not to.
The feeling you get when someone asks you to do something you don’t want to do but you do it anyway to avoid conflict.
It’s the feeling you have when you want to try something new but you’re afraid of being judged for it or getting embarrassed.
Then, as time goes on, stay with the feeling as long as you can and begin acting on it. Begin taking the other road as soon as you can hesitate on the feeling long enough for you to process the repercussions of taking the easy way out.