We give a considerable amount of thought to the image of self we project to the world–image not as in phony pose, but as in outwardly received authentic representation.
From the diction we use and the references we make in conversation, to our outward appearance– clothing, jewelry, the color and cut of our hair, the height of our shoes, the make and model of the car we drive, to professional brand logos and so on, we take every possible measure to ensure that we supply enough– and the right kind of– identifying information about ourselves for the sake of the person with whom we’re meeting. We want to be understood rightly, after all. If there’s one thing we want, it’s that.
And yet, even when we believe we’ve articulated our whole selves successfully, there are times when others still misperceive us.
This was my experience lately. Although nothing can be said to have gone awry, I had the sense, as one will, that the individual with whom I had been in contact hadn’t come away from our meeting with an accurate- or complete- perception of me.
So then I momentarily let myself get all frustrated at this person’s seemingly lacking powers of perception, “Hello?” I wanted to bellow, “You totally missed it! I’m those things you said I was, but I’m others, too. Why didn’t you get from what I gave you the exact summations I wanted you to?”
And then I had a very mini crisis of identity in which I fretted over whether I had dropped the ball, said the wrong things, dressed the wrong way; in which I replayed every similar past meeting movie-montage style, wondering if all those people had walked away with inaccurate or incomplete perceptions of me, too.
Who am I, even??
Before I had the chance to sail away on the seas of self-meditated reinvention, I remembered that perception, as it concerns people, is not unilateral. On the one hand, there is the experience of being inside of oneself and behaving and appearing in such a way as we believe will best communicate ourselves. And on the other is the inherent truth that everyone carries around their own pre-established categorizations, judgments and expectations, which they utilize when forming perceptions.
Sometimes, even when we’re doing a great job of representing our authentic selves to the world, people don’t perceive us as thus. Ultimately, we all see and hear what we want. And really, we can’t be blamed for having established classifications in order for us to easily comprehend people in such a noisy world as this. I couldn’t blame this person for drawing what conclusions they may have from the individual–I–presented to them, nor could I blame myself for what I had said or didn’t say, worn or didn’t wear.
It’s sort of a wash, this perception business. And while it pays to dwell on any moment for as long as it takes to learn a few good lessons, lingering on our image and how effectively it was perceived is just silly.
Ultimately, it’s a matter of constant experimenting and refining. We go with what we think might work, discover the response to that, and alter accordingly.
But really, we know who we are. We thank our lucky stars when we meet others who understand us, and those who haven’t perceived us correctly? The best we can do is sort of shrug our shoulders and march on.