Monday, June 16, 2008

Day Fifteen: Who Are You?

"If you're always guarding your image, you can't ever get to the essence of what God is calling you to." -- Mark Steiger

Wise words, huh? I feel like this has been a central issue for me in terms of "growing up"--giving up the illusion that I can/should/must control my image. Like anything I've ever tried to control with my own will, these attempts at perception management haven't gone so well for me. Instead, they created this bizarre three-way split between who I was in public, who I was in private, and who I longed to be. Intriguing, at some level, perhaps; but not anyone you'd want to spend more than a few minutes with unless you were doing research for a psych class.

I was pretty much at the end of my image when I finally decided to give Jesus a try. I was living in a run-down shambles of an apartment, temping at a job where I'm make one or two photocopies a week and then surf the internet for the other thirty-nine and a half hours. There was nowhere to go but up. And yet at some level, as my life improved in tangible, amazing ways, I always thought that at some point, I'd get it (my image) back.

Touring with my book over the past two months disabused me of this idea once and (I hope) for all. It was astonishing, really--at any event I went into with some pre-conceived idea of how I wanted to come across, I fell flat on my face (and got run over by a bus or two while I was down there). But when I checked my image at the door, amazing things happened: great conversations, answered prayers, interactions with fun people that instantly felt like friends. And (not coincidentally) lots of book sales. So much more fun and fruitful. Good stuff.

So last night, when I was with a group of people discussing a book called "HEROIC LEADERSHIP" (and what tempts me to start polishing up my image more than the idea of being a hero???) my friend Mark made the wise comment above. I scrambled to write it down. I should have it emblazoned on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and post-it notes; little reminders that guarding my image not only takes TONS of effort that could be better spent elsewhere, but it's destined to fail.

How about you? Do you have an image you cultivate?

Today's passage: Psalm 119:113-136

Today's song: My Life by Mary J. Blige


Accidental Admin. said...

I've always been the Queen of Image. And I am sure there are image-y things I am not even present to right now, but the one that goes around with me pretty much everywhere like an evil twin conjoined at my hip (or like a security blanket--your choice) is that of The Girl Who Has It All Together. You know--the girl who's put in the position of responsibility and who can handle it all and who needs no help whatsoever. The girl who wouldn't dare dream of asking for help or admitting that she is overwhelmed and has too much going on at once. The girl who absolutely must accomplish the entire world of her dreams and desires right now because she dreams them, desires them, and--well--in her capacity as The Girl Who Has it All Together--is more than capable of doing everything. Perfectly.

Oh boy oh boy. While there are aspects of this--the drive that underlies the image--that certainly worked in my favor so many times in my life and that helped me accomplish a lot of things that, were you to see it on a resume might make you say, "oh, ok...this is pretty darn good..." the truth is that this image as a whole was leading me down a pretty muddy path. While drive and accomplishment might be the 'glory' of the image, isolation, false urgency, extra stress, and a distorted sense of importance to everything that I was doing--just because I was doing it--were sort of the price to pay.

About a year and a half ago I found myself sort of at my bottom and entirely depleted of resources to Fix Everything Now, which was the only way I knew to take care of things. I found myself in the strangest and most uncomfortable place--having to ask people to help me and having to admit that even though I had a few specific dreams if I thought about them, I didn't ultimately WANT them and I didn't ultimately have the passion for them to match the urgency and validate it.

And I found myself needing a job and finding only one job that would allow me to reasonably pay my rent--a job with relatively little responsibility but that was valuable to my bosses and that was (is...) generally low-key enough for me to work on the other stuff and the ways in which I had sucked my heart dry of the listening and nurturing and patience that it so needed.

And I also found myself asking people for help (I am still practicing and am still learning this one, but I am fifty million times better, I think, than ever before...), admitting that I don't have it in me to figure everything out on my own, and thinking for the first time about what, deep down, I *really* want--what's fundamental to my heart and what's necessary for my life to feel fulfilled.

I've got some answers, and I am getting some others. What I have gained along the way, though, is beyond this--it is this indisputable belief in myself and this strangely huge and powerful kindness towards myself each time I mess up and each time I accomplish something. I never had any of this before. I never had any belief that I was worth anything if I did not accomplish everything, every single moment, and if I did not have everything perfectly wrapped up and held together with a pretty little bow and a glossy little smile. Still got a long ways to go, but I think that the me separated from image is doing just fine. :)

ForstRose said...

I guess in a sense I try to control how others see me too at least at times. I tend to be shy and very selective in who gets past the surface in relationships partly because there's not time to invest in quality relationships with everyone and partly because quality time with certain people is more valuable to me than sharing myself with everyone I meet.

However as far as trying to control perceptions, I am shy and not a crowd person yet crave a sense of acceptance and belonging with others. In trying to satisfy that I used to try and be a more "social" busy person but only ended up exhausted and drained both physically and emotionally from the overload of too many people and lack of quality time with the ones I did care to keep connected with.

I have since gotten better, most of the time anyway at gauging my ability to handle large groups and excusing myself when I reach that point of it becoming a drain instead of enjoyable. Sometimes it is better just to say no and prioritize the activities that could fill my time. While meeting new people isn't a bad thing many times a chance to spend time with my established circle of friends preferably smaller groups at a time like maybe 3 or so tops tends to be at the top of my list and I will choose it almost all the time over a social event or group activity that is planned.

It is actually a relief to be able to feel like its not necessary to force myself to attend events and only end up feeling worse after but at the same time I do have to make the effort to connect with others somehow to meet new people.


Sarakastic said...

If anything I have the anti image, I'm always yelling "Don't put me in a box, I'm different!" I guess that is my image. This theory falls apart when I notice that I really want the same stuff as everybody else & I need to be more open to that.

Liza said...

I really struggle with image. I'm working on it, but it is tough. I have always been the one everyone else comes to for help, so much so, that I don't feel that I can ever ask anyone for help. I'm getting better at asking for help. My mom passed away when I was 12, so I became to person my older sister and younger brother relied on me to keep everything together. My dad was awesome, but my siblings still come to me first when they need help to this day.

Larramie said...

Being real is, imo, the only image that abides...

Natasha said...

Who am I? you know that is a great question. I am one of the most friendly approachable ppl you could ever meet and I am funny too :) But in all that there is always the pressure to appear non chalant about everything in theory, in fact, I do care what others think, what they say and how they respond. I am working on changing this cause I need no one's approval but God and He loves me just as I am.

Kwana said...

Thanks for this today. You've given me so much to think about. Image is crumbling as I type.

ramblin' girl said...

I used to... and I've realized lately that around friends from those days I still do try to u[hold "that image" sometimes. I'm trying to be better about just being me, all the time.

Kim said...

God blessed me today, moving me a step closer to my dreams. Keeping the faith!

Image is a tough one. As I get older the image of the person I want to be is melding a bit more with the person I really am. Maybe I've lowered the bar. LOL.