Beyond the Blank Page

My Journey to Telling the Untold

Perception is Everything

Today I was driving home from class and came to a stop light where a man was waiting for someone to let him through to get out of the gas station. I stopped and gave him the universal “go ahead” signal, he waved back and went, and we were both on our merry way. But I got to thinking in that moment about the differences between how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us. In my mind, this man could see that I’m an often timid, usually introverted, almost always caring to a fault, self conscious, mid twenty something girl. I expected him to see those things because I could, but that isn’t how it works at all. To paint the picture slightly more vivid for you, I sported a bright pink pea coat and a winter hat with a big white bow on it today. While what we wear can make a statement, bright colors and bows don’t always equal caring and perky people while dark colors and the like don’t always equal “emo” or angry types.

Are you staying with me so far? If not, I apologize, as my thoughts are running quickly through my mind at the moment.

In my mind I projected who I am onto this man, and to everyone I encounter. I expect them to see me for me because I do. I live in my head 24/7 (quite a scary place to spend too much time, I might add), and so I grow so used to knowing me that I expect everyone else to see me for who I really am, also. I could be wrong here, but I feel like most of us probably do this without even realizing it.

When someone is rude to me, I don’t understand, because I usually bottle up my angry or sad emotions in public and therefore come across as perky (I promise I’m not tooting my own horn here, in fact, I consider the bottling of emotions to sometimes be one of my most dangerous faults). When my friends hear about it, they usually say similar things because they see the caring side of me that I show to the world. The thing is, though, that strangers don’t get a chance to see that side of us. The person we project to the world is only seen through interactions, sometimes small and sometimes large, but interactions nonetheless.

After all, no one knows me better than me – or do they? You see, there is a flip side to this coin. While I live in my head and see things from one angle – what emotions I feel, how I look, what I think and believe, and “who I really am,” others see it all from a different angle. Living in our own heads gives us the best look at all of our strengths, but it also gives us a front row view to all of our glorious faults. Think for a moment about one or two things that you love about yourself and then one or two things that you can’t stand about yourself. For me, they look like this: I love that I am an empathetic person and that I care about people and activities (such as my dream of writing) with a fiery passion. I hate that I let people walk on me, that I often shy away from involving myself in situations without first being invited, that – oh wait, I said one or two, didn’t I? You see, it took me some time to think of two things I liked, but not much time to think of faults.

This is where the flip side of perception comes in. Do we really know ourselves better than anyone else ever could? In some regards, yes. In others, absolutely not. When I’m angry, hurting, and especially when I’m livid (oh yes, little old me gets livid quite often) I see the very worst in myself. All of the good things about me fade away. I can start ranting a list of everything horrible about myself with no problem whatsoever, but when someone tries to calm me by telling me to name a few things I like about myself, my mind goes blank. Here comes a friend to the rescue with texts, emails, calls, etc reminding me of who I am and who I can be.

Recently, there was drama going on in both my family and with one of my friends and I vented a little bit on Facebook. I received a text from a good friend asking me how anyone could be so mean to me, because I’m the sweetest person ever. I certainly didn’t feel like the sweetest person ever at that moment in time, but her text reminded me of who I am and who I can strive to be. I was so lost in the negativity that I felt out of my anger and hurt, and so easily believing the bad things that another said about me (another way that perception can work against some of us), that I forgot about all of the good things.

So the bottom line is this – perception really is everything. That person that was rude at the grocery store today? They might have just lost a loved one. That person that cut you off in traffic? They might be rushing to get to the hospital to see their first baby be born (not saying they should be speeding or cutting people off, just that we should remember we don’t always know the circumstances). In all reality, this is just another way of saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” That girl that’s walking around with tattoos and wearing all black might be an extremely sweet girl (I own a lot of black clothing and have tattoos). She also might not be. The point is, you have no idea just by looking at her. You can’t necessarily help that you have an automatic perception of her, as our brains usually form an opinion based on appearance before we interact with someone, but you can choose to remember that your perception might not be correct. The same is true of yourself – you are probably an amazing person with good intentions in life, but people aren’t likely to know that just by looking at you.

I will leave you with a famous quote that touches on how we have to choose the way that we perceive ourselves: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” – Henry Ford.

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