Perception

This was one of those weeks.

I’m working a temp job now, one I think I’d like to last awhile. It’s an interesting group I work with, primarily young…and poor. I’m doing admin work, but my desk is smack dab in the middle of a warehouse.

There are a handful of people my age, a few older, but for the most part, of the 120 or so employees there, more than 100 are probably under 35, if not under 30. We get along fine. I’m grateful the man who hired me looked at my skill set and not my wrinkles.

Anyway, the facility manager jokingly told me he thought I was about 33. I don’t kid myself; I know he was joking. But later that day while in line to pay a bill, I was asked for my birthdate, and after giving it, the young man in line behind me said, “Ma’am, I would’ve guessed you to be about 35.”

So I was feeling pretty good.

At church today, I was sitting in back with a woman, her daughter and 4-month-old grandson. I’d never met them before, and this adorable little baby was smiling and flirting with me. Of course I smiled back, and the baby’s grandma asked me, “do your grandchildren live in the area?”

I was so startled, I just said no. I don’t have any grandchildren. I don’t have any children. And yes, friends my age all pretty much have a passel of grandbabies, but no one has ever assumed I was a grandma before.

Where does the truth lie? How old do I look?

Autumn walk
How do we view those around us?

Several years ago, when I was working as a reporter, I covered the local community theater group’s most recent production, and got a wonderful photo during rehearsal of the lead actress. It turned out she’d had some Top 40 hits years ago (don’t ask me what), so I ended up doing a story just about her.

When I interviewed her, I mentioned the photo I’d taken earlier. She frowned.

I asked if she had been unhappy with it, and she said no, it was a good photo. She paused, and added, “I just didn’t think I looked that old.”

I look in the mirror and I trust I see an honest reflection of what I look like, but I know I don’t see myself as others do. That carries over to other aspects of my life as well. I don’t know how people perceive me. I have a pretty good self-image, and I believe I understand my strengths and weaknesses. But I have no idea how I’m viewed by my co-workers, for example.

I’m not talking age here. I’m talking how they see me as a person. Serious or flighty? I can pretty much guarantee they’ll say nice, but how does that translate?

Right before I sat down to write this, I had stopped in the grocery store and ran into a former boss, someone who would have heard lies and rumors about me from a few years back. I was immediately on guard.

No worries. He spun around so quickly it was like a blur. I passed him in the parking lot a few minutes later, and he ignored me.

How does he view me, in light of the falsehoods I know he’s heard?

Girl with a jug

It isn’t something I worry about or feel any great concern over. I have people who know me and love me, and what anyone thinks of me is their business. How they see me is colored by how they see themselves.

I just wonder about it sometimes.

What is important to me is honesty with myself, accepting myself, forgiving myself, improving myself. I want to be better when I turn 60 than I am today.

That’s not too far away…better get on it.


Image credits: © maiko62 – stock.adobe.com

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Hidden Truths, Secret Sorrows

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Our face is a mask, sometimes opaque, sometimes transparent.

Recently a friend of mine was taking an online test about reading emotions, and not doing too well. She was frustrated. I suspect the test was flawed in multiple ways, and even if she did read the emotions correctly, there’s never any way to be certain of the reason for the feelings. We can’t read minds, and we don’t know all that is happening in anyone’s life.

Someone may smile at something we said because it ties in with a conversation they had only a moment before. We’re unaware of what was said, however, and think they’re smiling inappropriately at our tale, and become frustrated. It happens everyday.

That’s a simple misunderstanding. Just as we don’t know what is spoken in the moments before we join a discussion, we most often have no way of fully knowing what’s happening in the lives of those around us. People are discreet enough generally to keep their private lives private, and sometimes they do so almost to a fault.

I have a friend who was dealing with her mother’s Alzheimer’s last year, and I never knew until shortly before her mom died. She and I had been working on a project together and I’d wondered why she’d lost her enthusiasm for it. Was it something I said? Had I been too controlling? I can get stuck in my ways. Now, that could have been the case, but more likely, she simply had other priorities.

She kept up a brave face around me, and maybe wondered why I never asked how her mom was doing. You see, others knew. I didn’t. Perhaps I should have known. We live in a communication age, but our own personal interactions frequently suffer from presumptions and assumptions all around. We rely too much on expectations and, as I alluded to above, expressions of emotion.

How we view our peers and others around us is more than just reading facial expressions, of course.

As well as how they view us. We’re born with a look that defines us, or helps others think they can define us. We grow and mature and that look changes and develops with us, but never truly reflects all that we are. It limits our definition of ourselves to other people.

When I was in high school, I peripherally was friends with a young woman, a year older than I, who to this day I’d have to say was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. Another woman in my group described her by saying, “she looks like a cover girl, only she hasn’t been airbrushed.” The only person to come close to matching her beauty (and it may be a tie) was her younger sister.
woman eyes with flower, color pencil drawing, eye contact. Computer collage.
But beauty had its price. Let me add here these were two of the nicest, most sincere women you’d ever meet as well, and their parents were great people. Yet despite all the kindness they’d show to others, they were subject to vicious rumors and gossip simply because of petty jealousy. They faced other problems directly related to their looks, such as expectations from men when they were far too young to handle that sort of thing, and so on. It wasn’t fair.

The older girl, my friend, was often cautious around other people, knowing what they would be saying as soon as she left the room. That in turn led to talk she was “stuck-up” because she’d be reluctant to open up to someone new, or even those she knew well enough already.

We make judgments sometimes to feel in control of a situation. If we understand what’s going on, we can deal with it, so we seek an answer — and run the risk of being horribly wrong.

How do we discern a person’s heart?

Respecting another’s privacy is an important value to many of us, and in doing so, we also must respect we will likely give up some knowledge we may find useful, whether we have a right to it or not. That knowledge includes the ability, at times, to fully understand someone’s painful history and appreciate their distant behavior as a symptom of that aching within themselves.

I do believe we should, in general, live with an attitude every person is far more complex than we can recognize when we first meet them. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt, understanding we don’t know what secret sorrows they face, is the gracious thing to do.

Having that open mind and open heart, giving others a chance to reveal themselves, will help teach us the perception and insight we seek. It is immensely rewarding to be the one who discovers the cold and bitter outsider is a warm, kind person waiting to be loved.

Yes, we must always use discretion when reaching out to others to save ourselves from being taken advantage of by manipulative and greedy people. A slow and steady approach of grace with the counsel of others is always wise.

Grace, wisdom, warmth of spirit. Gifts of human kindness that can change the world.

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Image Credits: (Masks) © tereks — Fotolia; (Face) © jozefklopacka — Fotolia; (Flowers) © nongkran-ch — Fotolia

The Truth Within

Three years ago I almost lost a good friend, largely over a misunderstanding.

Another friend stepped in and tried to straighten things out, and in doing so, made the already shaky relationship we had that much worse.

Female figures handmade oil painting on canvasShe chastised me for committing an offense I truly couldn’t see I was guilty of having done, citing a conversation I’d had with her husband as another example. By this time, I’d reconciled with the first woman, so I asked for her perspective about what our mutual friend had told me. I was concerned I might be blind to what would be a fairly significant problem.

She didn’t see the issue the same way, but I remained aware of this potential flaw in my character. Eventually I realized the problem was more likely something I’d already known about my second friend. She will not only defend her husband regardless of what he’s done (and for the most part, I can’t fault her for that), she will lash out at other people who dare to challenge him.

In this case, in my conversation with this man, we’d disagreed about an issue I strongly believe in. Typically with him I let go, even when I know he’s spouting baloney, because it isn’t worth it to disagree. This time, however, I stepped in it, rather than around it. I don’t apologize for that. I should have done it more often.

You can’t trust the “constructive criticism” that comes from a woman who is defending her husband, no matter how sincere she might be, or might think she is being, in trying to help a challenging situation.

Which brings it all back around to my response to her comments about this perceived flaw. I was inspired to write about this after reading K E Garland’s post, Monday Notes: Agreement #2, in which she discusses the second of the Four Agreements (from the book of the same name): “never take anything personally.”

The crux of this agreement is we take neither criticism nor praise personally, because it reflects the other individual’s state of mind, which can change with the wind.

I believe we should weigh what others say, both the good and the bad, but ultimately, we have to decide for ourselves what the truth is in any given situation.

lovely woman handmade oil painting on canvasHigh school was a challenging time for me, and there were plenty of days my appearance showed the depression, anger and hurt I was feeling so deeply. I could always count on my friends Leigh and Sue to compliment my hair or tell me I’d lost weight on those days. Trust me, the compliments reflected their kindness, not the truth about my hairstyle or figure.

Most of the time, our friends aren’t as transparent as Leigh and Sue were (and I’m thankful to this day for their friendship). But, on the flip side of my bad hair days in adolescence, if I know my new haircut is flattering, the faint praise of someone whose opinion I value shouldn’t throw me. She may be sinking underneath some pain she isn’t willing to share.

Trusting yourself is a scary thing. If you’re going to be truly honest, you know you have blinders. Still, that same honesty can save you when others are less faithful to the situation.

Be true to yourself.


Image Credits: (All) © RomanBen — Bigstock

Quirky, Quality, Goofy

Once, in junior high, in that typical, foolish, heartbreaking way we all seem to have of discovering the truth about our true love’s feelings, my best friend asked the boy of my dreams if he liked me.

“Well, kind of,” he said, “but she’s kind of, you know, different?”

I was crushed. It was, after all, junior high, and I wanted to fit in. Flash forward twenty years, and I’m breaking up with my boyfriend. He’s apparently still in junior high and feels a need to hurt me in as many ways as possibly during our final discussion.

But he’s unsuccessful, in part because he starts out with this: “you’re kind of offbeat, you know? Different?”

Nailed it, possibly for the first time in our relationship. Finally seemed to show some sort of understanding of who I am. A little offbeat, beat of a different drummer, all that.

Except as one wise man once told me, everyone who’s anti-establishment is anti-establishment in the same way, and the same holds true with being offbeat.  It’s not as different as all that. It’s just another way of being in this world.

It’s taken me a long time to finally appreciate that with all my quirks, my socialgirl faux pas, my awkward moments — and those are bountiful — I’m still at heart someone who offers more than she takes, and that is immensely valuable in today’s world.

My friends like me for all of quirks, qualities and goofy ways. They like me despite my screw ups and because of my kind heart and sense of humor. They are quality people, so I’ve begun to see myself as one, too.

You are known by the company you keep, and you know who your friends are when trouble washes over you. My friends have proven my best qualities, time and again.

So here I stand, and here I stay.

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Image Credits: © UBE — Fotolia

Wisdom and Roadblocks

I’ve been binge-watching the show Younger for the last few weeks, and in addition to being entertained by the program, I’m intrigued by the idea of going back in time and starting over, knowing now what I wish I knew then.

I remember my twenties as agony, my thirties as much greater fun. As my body calls out with daily new aches and pains, I long for the time when age wasn’t catching up with me. With what I’ve learned up to this point in my life, think of what I could do with all that health.

me-c-1987
Me at 27 — or 29 — doesn’t matter, it was a long time ago.

There are moments, somewhat fleeting, when I’d love to be 27 and have the full opportunity to start a new career, with a lifetime of growth in that field ahead of me. In my mind, I can picture myself as professional, successful, innovative, and admired for my deftness in cutting edge work. I have long hair and a stylish wardrobe, and if my lipstick wears off, I doesn’t dangerously age me.

As intriguing as the idea of a second chance may be, it discounts the opportunities available to me today. Yes, youth has its advantages and its appeal in the workplace. But for many, too many, it comes with limitations, arrogancy and insecurity.

Younger isn’t a going-back-in-time show, it’s a pretending-to-be-14-years-younger-than-you-really-are show. The reality is, I do, in fact, look younger than a lot of women my age. Not 14 years, but enough. It’s heredity, and I’m thankful for it. Still, not enough to pretend I actually am in my 40s, with all the opportunities that still exist for women of that generation. That’s because, at some point, in some way, I’d have to return to the angst of that decade. And as Younger shows us, you can’t escape who you are.

I’m best at being who I am today. At times confused, somewhat scared, yet more than anything else, optimistic. In recent years I have been blessed with greater wisdom and insight, and a more relaxed attitude toward life. I don’t worry as much about what others think, I see through the lies and pandering of popular media, and I’m better about standing up for myself. Far from perfect there, but I no longer fear the consequences of saying “you can’t treat me like that.”

There is a reason I am where I am today, and given the chance to take my life experience and place it in my resurrected 27-year-old body would fail the human experience somehow. I am meant to be taking risks, making friends, loving my family and defining my priorities in part by the age I am, with all the gifts and drawbacks that brings.

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Me today. Yes, I’d prefer it if wearing my hair long didn’t age me. But in the scheme of things, that ranks low on the happiness scale.

Authenticity and being true to oneself are such lofty terms. I don’t seek my authentic self. That self is already here. I seek integrity in my actions, reality coupled with creativity in my goals, and those precious moments when my cat curls up in my lap and purrs himself to sleep. I have my insecurities, but they don’t dominate my life like they used to do. I have my responsibilities, and I seek to meet them.

Authentically, honestly, I am 56 years old. That brings baggage and relief, wisdom and roadblocks. It is like any other age, with limitations, frustrations and opportunities. Life is a journey, one you are constantly having to re-navigate. Thankfully the tools get better with age. After all, I now have more wisdom and experience to break through those roadblocks.


Radical Authenticity

Outside Looking In

“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world, but then I thought, there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me, too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this, know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”
― Frida Kahlo

How many of us have sat silently at night, convinced we stand alone in the world in our oddness, and uncertain as to how to change? Fearing constant rejection throughout our lives?

Me at Four
Even at the age of four I felt like an outsider.

For years I lived my life that way, believing not only was I too far outside the norm to be accepted, but that I would never truly be loved, that I would be isolated from others all of my life.

I no longer feel that way, even though I know I stand alone in many ways. Well, perhaps not truly alone, there are others like me, but I’m not sure I know them. I’ve found a way to be myself in the world, and perhaps that makes me oblivious to the thoughts of others.

November 2014 family gathering 5x7
I’m doing better these days.

Well, truthfully, I have my moments, and in those times I wonder if I’m blind to my oddities the rest of the time. If that’s the case, there’s little I can do to change now. I am who I am and I don’t know any way to be any different.

I’m not ruled by those thoughts anymore. Perhaps I was overly sensitive to them before, and made things worse by behaving in a way that matched how I believed others saw me.

This is who I am.


women with sharp claws and sharper tongues

woman wearing grey felt hat in retro stlyleLast summer, a young woman I work with took a few days of her precious vacation time to be in a childhood friend’s wedding. It turns out the other bridesmaids were sorority sisters of the bride, and Lindsey didn’t hit it off with them.

Since they were the only guests at the wedding she even halfway knew, she spent most of her time alone at a table, talking occasionally to relatives kind enough to stop by and ask how she was doing.

The maid-of-honor had something to say about this. In a pseudo-friendly manner, she reached out to Lindsey and said, “you know, you’re kind of a sweet, socially awkward nerd.” The other bridesmaids laughed a little, and reassured her, “we mean that in a nice way!”

MRRRREOW.

That comment is #1 on today’s list.

After she related this story to us the following week, I told my young co-worker, “better to be a socially awkward nerd than a catty bitch.”  I wasn’t even certain about their assessment of her. But no matter.

Lindsey is hesitant to call anyone her longtime friend would have in her wedding a catty bitch. So to help her identify these types in the future, I gave her – and now you – six examples of CB conversation (as I mentioned earlier, #1 the bridesmaids provided for us). We’ve all heard these things said in one form or the other:

#2 “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that’s the dress I gave Goodwill last year.”

Sandwiched by insincere compliments.

#3 “It’s a shame the bride didn’t stick with matching just the color of the bridesmaid dresses.”

Said near the presumably (excuse the pun) misfit bridesmaid.

#4 “Oh, don’t worry, I’m sure in the right lighting that lipstick works.”
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Unsolicited, to the woman standing next to her at the mirror in the ladies room.

#5 “My husband has a shirt made of the same fabric as your dress, but I refuse to let him be seen wearing it in public.”

Zing! Zing! Multiple targets there.

#6 “Is shrimp supposed to taste like this?” (Granted, in the right situation that may be an appropriate question.)

Most often said when eating chicken.

Stick with being a socially awkward nerd, Lindsey, if in fact that’s what you are. You’ll grow out of it, but these woman will never change.

Photo Credit (woman with cat) © evasilchenko — fotolia.com (lipstick) © piresphoto — fotolia.com