I used to wonder about anorexics who still thought they were fat when they were rail-thin. How could someone not see themselves as she is? I am beginning to relate just a tiny bit. I still have shirts that were always too small at the back of the closet. I pass over them time and again, thinking I can’t wear them or they would feel too tight. I’m wearing one of those today, and it is actually too big. In the past two years, I’ve lost four clothing sizes and an awful lot of weight, and I still think of myself as larger than I really am. It’s a little hard for me to understand because I haven’t changed on the inside. I’m the same person I was a couple of years ago, so the outer change still surprises me.
A few days ago, I was talking with a friend about my difficulty talking to people. I love talking about things that really matter, but I feel quite awkward with more incidental things and small talk. I told my friend about a new insight I had this week that I thought would help correct my poor conversational skills. She looked at me quite blank-faced and finally said that I was trying to fix a problem that didn’t exist. I don’t fail to listen to her thoroughly and provide relevant comment. She thought I was a bit weird to think I had a problem. “But I do,” I told her, “with people I don’t know very well.” She still tried to gently redirect my thinking, saying that I didn’t perceive myself accurately. I know the many failures that she doesn’t witness. I grudgingly admitted that my issues may not be as large as I thought it was, but it’s still a problem.
My daughter tells me her friends think I’m a “real bad-ass.” I thought she was nuts and must have been telling things that weren’t true, or maybe the term didn’t mean what I thought. So I asked her why they thought that and she told me. She said that she told them how I went to law school as a single mother of three, graduated as a married mother of four, and passed the bar exam the first time – while working full-time before, during, and after it all.
Oh. Those facts were true, but I didn’t think that made me some sort of bad-ass. She sees an accomplishment, and I just remember how difficult it was to want to be good at so many things at once. I didn’t get to assert enough energy at anything I did to feel like I was successful at it, and I still worry that I had somehow damaged my children by going to back to school. Yet that degree placed me in the civil rights field, and I feel lucky to work at a job I enjoy that reflects my values. I don’t see myself as a bad-ass at all; I’m just a working mom.
My daughter once told me that she forgets how strong I am. I don’t feel strong; I just do what I think is right. I look bookish and introverted, and I am, but underneath it all is a determination that keeps me focused on what is important to me. That’s inconvenient to those who tell me to settle and that I won’t make it. Little do they know that their play-it-safe attitude just eggs me on more. Where she sees strength, I saw stubbornness and pride. Maybe strength is part of the mix, but that isn’t how I saw it at all.
I guess what I’m trying to do here is encourage you to look at yourself and your life. Look at all those places where you criticize yourself and take a step back. How might someone else see that? How do you see yourself as less than you really are? Is your self-criticism loud when it should be softer? Where do you hear the criticism of your youth rather than the success of your adulthood?
I believe in being a realist. I have a long list of things I’m not good at and ways I want to improve myself. But conversations and events this week brought me lessons in understanding that I might need to see myself from a different perspective now and then. My view from the inside out may not be the same as from the outside in.