We are much more complex than just any one or five or ten attributes. And when we reduce ourselves to simply our attributes, we begin to lose sense of who we are.
There’s that old joke that pretty girls are the most insecure. From sexist comedies to crass locker room talk, that notion is pervasive in our culture.
And, quite frankly, how could they not be?
Having worked at large PR agencies and growing up with two gorgeous sisters, I’ve seen the pretty girl dilemma plenty. You have a beautiful girl, and nobody wants to see much past her looks. They all reduce her to being a pretty girl. It doesn’t matter if she’s smart or funny or talented. She’s just a pretty girl. And she loves it—for a while. She can fall back on it. Free drinks at the bar? Access to VIP sections? Able to approach reporters at events?
But the problem with reducing one’s entire being to a single attribute is you begin to identify with it yourself. You begin to believe that all you are is a pretty girl. Without flexing the intelligence or talent muscle now and then, you begin to lose confidence in it.
And, then, sure enough, you become insecure. You become just another pretty girl.
But pretty girls are just the ones that get picked on in this culture. Don’t fool yourself – you can replace “pretty girls” with any other skill or attribute that is really desirable, and the same holds true. Don’t like pretty girl? Let’s plug in intelligent guy. Change free drinks and VIP sections to kick ass work and knowing everything. I mean, people expect that you’ll just be smart every time, so you better lean on that.
For most of my life, I was the intelligent guy. I had it so bad that I never once said out loud that I think I’m intelligent until just last year. I was embarrassed about it in a way. It’s what people in high school and college identified me with. They expected I just knew everything. And I even started pretending I knew things when I didn’t because I was supposed to be the intelligent one. When I felt insecure, I’d just try to speak about things the other parties knew less than I did about. Because I was the intelligent one.
The bottom line is that we are much more complex than just any one or five or ten attributes. And when we reduce ourselves to simply our attributes, we begin to lose sense of who we are.
How many conversations start with, “So what do you do”?
Somehow what you do has become definitive of who you are.
If tomorrow, that pretty girl were no longer pretty, she’d still be a person, right? She’d still be herself with plenty of other great qualities.
Here’s a hint: clients and customers don’t hire attributes. They hire people. They don’t always know why. Maybe it’s that quirky joke you made. Maybe it’s the way you presented yourself. But they want you just as much as they want your attributes.
So why are we trying to reduce ourselves?
We’re all contradictions. We’re all paradoxes. I’m smart and dumb. I’m classy and trashy. It’s hard to identify with one attribute, because we’ll inevitably be the complete opposite at some point.
If we believe that every moment is an opportunity to start fresh, then we can’t hold on too tightly to any one identity. Because we’re going to contradict it.
And that’s what makes us unique. It’s what makes us human.
So lean into those paradoxes. Proudly display the parts of yourself that don’t make sense, and then you’ll find that they actually do make sense.
Look at me. I’m a yuppie and a hippie. I’m conservative and liberal. I’m both pro- and anti-corporate America.
But that’s how I make sense. When I lean into my polar opposites, I realize that it doesn’t make me a hypocrite. If anything, it gives me integrity because I’m being true to my contradictions. It makes me a bridge. I can connect those two polar realms.
Burning sage? Sure, I can talk the energy clearing game with the hippies, but I can also talk negative ions and physicists and its antimicrobial properties with the medical community.
Market segmentation? Absolutely love this discussion with the MBA crowd. But I can talk about focusing and clarifying intention with the hippies.
When we have the courage to be more than just our most obvious labels, we have the courage to offer something much more complex and interesting than has come before. We have the courage to be ourselves.
The most fascinating thing is that you have never existed and will never exist again. There aren’t two of you. So you can’t be just another anything because you have something very unique to bring to the table.
In fact, in today’s bipartisan and divided world, we’d be missing a lot if we don’t get your bridge to connect contradictory ideas.
So what are your paradoxes?
Originally published at BostonWellnessCoach.com.