The 10 false selves that dismantle my identity and steal my joy:
From an early age, we are taught how to turn heads. When we have a good performance we are affirmed and the drugs are released into our bodies like snorting cocaine. We get addicted to affirmation that is directly traced back to the good performance. The problem comes when you believe your performance translates into who you are and your worth. When you succeed, you are liked and even loved, when you fail, you feel as though all that you’ve worked for is at risk. Performance-based living is exhausting because you have to keep out-performing your last showing. There’s always an encore, and eventually you’re just tired of putting on another performance for applause. You want love apart from behavior and actions.
This trait is applauded early on in your childhood and rewarded with candy, hugs, and words of affirmation. When you obey, adults are happy, and when they are happy, you are happy. It crashes down like a house of cards when no matter what you do, you can’t make “that person” happy. You try everything you know to do, and still there is that one disapproving shaking head or the silence that tells you that you didn’t cut it. It can become so dominating that you can’t go on with life until that one person likes you again and you will do whatever it takes to fulfil their wishes. It is a difficult balance because we were created to care about what people feel without always caring about what people think…see the thin line of insanity in that? The desire to be liked is powerful and the pleaser just wants to make everyone happy and to know that no one has a negative view of them. Coming to grips with the fact that you can’t please everyone is the only way to dig out of this dark ditch. If everyone likes you, you probably have ceased being you along the way.
The problem with this obsession is that it impresses people. It gets you the grades, it gets you the grants, it gets you the resume, it gets you the job. You don’t miss anything…you excel while others are left in the dust in a pack of mediocrity and ordinary. Here’s where it starts eating your mind at night…you can’t stop thinking about how everything could be better if you had a little more time or a little different approach or a little better execution. When you don’t hit your internal expectation, you beat the tar out of your soul and pay a penance that many don’t see. The self-inflicted torture for missing the mark (perfect) starts will stealing sleep, then friends, then recreation, then joy. It eventually creates a successful person that can’t relax and is controlling. They know that non-anxious presence is what people are drawn to be around, but they are caught up in a way things need to be in order to relax…what they don’t know is things will never be the exact way they want them to be. So they never truly relax.
Cranking out product. This is the continual thirst of the soul bent on production. What did we do that created something to speak for at the end of it all. Did we accomplish anything? Did we make something happen? Is anything different than it was before we started? After all is said and done, did I actually produce results. Results are the primary gauge of value and worth. It’s devastating to put all this time and energy into a project only to find that it didn’t lead to progress. This kills the producer. They live for outcome. They want to see things going up and to the right. They want to lay their head on the pillow knowing that all the fighting and sweating and moving actually meant something substantial and quantifiable. They don’t want to simply feel better, they want to see things come to fruition…nothing else will satisfy.
There is no end to marketing. And at the end of the day, we are all selling something. Selling ourselves, selling our business, selling our idea, selling our parenting style, selling Jesus (if I could be so bold to admit). We are in a mode of building a brand that people find appealing and trustworthy. We are putting out clickbait and trying to catch their attention from the vying voices and crying competition that dominates people’s lives. It’s a war for people’s undivided attention and we are up against formidable foes that won’t be replaced without a fight. So we double down and think of new ways to stimulate the soul and catch the eye. Convincing people that you have a product that works is one thing, but if no one knows about it and tries it out, then the whole thing is a sinking ship. So you have to hustle. You have to let people know what’s coming, how great it is, how it will change their life, how they can’t miss it…you know, trigger phrases that yell from the rooftops, “Have I gotta deal for you!” And when people come to your deal, you better deliverer on the deal. If you don’t deliver, you lie and then die. The promoter is fighting for market share and clicks and engagement. It’s a cut-throat business.
You can’t go anywhere if you don’t plan ahead. Some people would call this person a futurist or a visionary, but whatever you call them, they are always trying to figure out how things need to be arranged and organized. They live for order and for things to be prepared ahead of time. They aren’t very present because they are always forecasting the future and envisioning what must take place in order for maximum coordination and cooperation. It’s such a good trait and you can’t succeed without a good planner, but it’s annoying to always be thinking “what’s next” when you’re trying to engage “right now”. You can’t be a planner without struggling a little bit with dwelling in the now. It’s hard to not let your mind fast forward into what “could be” and “should be” if only…(blah, blah, blah). It’s not uncommon for this person to be preoccupied and to wake up in the morning dreaming about how things are going to unfold in the third quarter of the Fall season or post-Easter or mid-summer. They are constantly preparing for what doesn’t yet exist, yet will soon, and so much of their identity is wrapped up in hearing this phrase when their plans are eventually tested… “Man, you thought through this so well. Way to pull this together and pull this off.” They feed off this affirmation like a drug.
You can’t be “on” all the time. There are many days when what you’re doing is so far from what you’re feeling that you would wonder if you’re nursing a split personality. You begin to project confidence without feeling any. You posture yourself as one who is present, but you couldn’t be further from where you are in the moment. You emit joy, you transmit optimism…yet in your heart you’re battling uncertainty and sadness. It’s hard as a leader to be seen as the “beacon of help, hope, and happiness” when you’re experiencing precious little of it yourself, so you begin to pretend, often for the greater good. But this takes a toll on the soul. No doubt there are times for a person to rise up and dutifully forge forward regardless of feelings, but at some point you have to reconcile the disparity of the outside you and the inside you. There will be a day of reckoning where you come to the crisis of who you really are. Pretenders can keep up a charade for quite some time, so when they fess up to their true state of heart, others have a hard time believing the pretender isn’t the real them. They share how that person changed their life or brought hope to the office or made them feel special or ushered in a new paradigm that saved everything. It’s truly difficult to “let people down” and you can wonder if it’s worth it to shed the shell or to just manage the mirage. The fact is that you can’t masquerade your whole life without serious fallout occurring at some point.
When you represent the organization there is a rush in knowing that you are the face and voice of the cause. You work hard in preparation for the shining moments of presentation. It’s amazing how those few moments of standing in front of people and giving the charge really affects people and effects the credibility of the whole. Perceived quality leads to consumer confidence…at least this is what they say in the business world. I think, in part, it’s true. That is the world we live in. So much stock is given to the quality and vulnerability and personability of what people experience when you step up to the mic and start sharing your heart. People are watching and listening for strength or weakness. And you know it…you can see them peering at you and there are times when it hits you: “They are actually listening to me.” It’s kinda scary when you feel that you’re human and making up stuff from your own intuitions and instincts. But you know what you need to feed the flock in order for them to feel secure and safe and satisfied. If you’re not careful you can let 95% of what happens in obscurity that is all-important to slide while you dedicate all your time on ‘presentations’ that get more response and seemingly more respect. But like anything else, if you’re not living the life, the presentation starts to be just that, a false impression that is no longer tethered to reality. You trade being ‘present’ for being a ‘presenter’.
Once you plan and know how you want to present yourself and your ideas, then you begin the hard work of programming the elements so that they land effectively in the heads and hearts of people. This is where you start breaking down time frames and transitions for each component of a service so that it can begin feeling every bit as choreographed as a spring musical or play. The last thing you want to be is a play-actor, but the demand of programming can make things feel premeditated and predetermined so much so that you feel like a cog in a wheel if you’re not careful. This component is critical so that you don’t come to the moment and everything is awkward because no one thought through the details of how it was all supposed to work together. So I’m not busting the chops of programming. But there is something so soulless sometimes about charting everything out in advance and implementing the prescribed program. Sometimes people can feel it, too. They feel like they’ve been herded into a building and that everything is canned and overproduced. They want it to breath and have room for spontaneous combustion to break out just so that it feels human instead of engineered. Programming takes a massive amount of time and synchronicity, and often you wonder if it’s all worth the brain space and meeting space it takes up. You can get lost in it.
We are in a personality culture. Some call it a celebrity culture. We are hero-worshippers and I’d love to say that spirit hasn’t crept into the church, but it has. So many of the leadership books you read are less about strategy and more about personality modification to make you into a leader people want to follow. People follow out-of-this-world, down-to-earth personalities. Because of podcasts and online videos, we are constantly bombarded with the best and brightest thinkers, creators, and communicators. We don’t want to compare ourselves, but it’s hard not to. People are conditioned to demand high-performance, high-octane personalities. They want you to be funny, yet thoughtful. Creative, yet linear. Progressive, yet traditional. Relevant, yet reverent. Strong, yet caring. The elasticity of most people’s personalities are so stretched that in time you wonder who you really are. “Who am I?” gets overshadowed by the question, “Who do you want me to be?” It’s hard to throttle the constant pull to be more attractive, impressive and effective. It’s hard to be ordinary and normal when it seems that everyone is used to a steady diet of awesome and phenomenal. This is where you can lose heart. And when you’ve lost heart, you’ve lost everything.
These are my schizophrenic alter-egos that battle within me, jockeying for position day in and day out. I hate them, I love them. I owe my success to them; I owe my stress to them. I want them to stay, I want them to go away. I have a very conflicted and complicated relationship with each of these individuals. Some speak of duplicity; I like the refer to it as multiplicity. I could only dream of having a duality to my disposition. I know this is something that will never go away, but somehow naming these dominant “persons” that live inside of me and whisper to me each day creates a first step in seeing my way clear of the claustrophobia that paralyzes me on a good many days.
I hope this helps me. I hope this helps you.
Thank you, God, for the ability to think deeply about oneself. This is the unique gift bestowed to humans. May I never take for granted this wonderful attribute of self-inventory and self-discovering.