A few days back, I sent a message to a few friends that caused much debate, – ‘it is only our parents I guess, who love us unconditionally. Rest all, value us only if we add some value to them’ My intention of that statement was – what is important? Existence? or Doing? ‘I think, therefore I am?’ or, is it, ‘I do, therefore I am?’
Consider friendship. Why did your friends gravitate towards you? For what? What value do you bring to the relationship? It could be simply be humour, or a listening trait that you have which they appreciate. Now, what if you don’t listen? What if you don’t crack any jokes? Will they still be your friends? By logic, no. You don’t bring anything to the table anymore. So, why would they still be happy having you around? Slowly the relationship would fade. So, am I, my actions? Or, should my existence be valued? irrespective of whether I act or don’t?
There are always two versions of ourselves – the actual ‘us’ and the masked ‘us’. Let’s call this inalienable part of us – who we are even when we don’t do anything or don’t add any value, the default ‘us’, as ‘character’. And, what people perceive us as based on what we do, or what they see as ‘persona(lity)’.
It takes time for people to know our true nature. And, some traits can only be observed over a time. So, to make ourselves more agreeable to others, to make others like us in the limited time we have with them, we show them a doctored version of ourselves, which we know they’ll like. We do this with almost everyone, revealing our true nature only to a few close friends & family; sometimes, not even to them.
The more there is gap between these two versions of our self, the more we’ll hate ourselves and others. Character is honed by our observations & experiences which in turn become our believes, colouring the glasses with which we see the world, which again affect the way we experience it. Since character is based on values and believes, it’s our nature. It is how we act or want to act, by default. (You joke because you like joking not because its going to earn you some mileage.) This, or a close version of this, is what the world needs to see. Not a ‘instagrammed’ version of ourselves.
We all have multiple personalities. We show different fragmented and curated images of ourselves to different individuals. We are either loved or hated based on those images. What would happen if that persona of ours’ is valued and deep in our heart we know that, that persona and character are at odds with each other? ‘Would I get the same reverence or would people still like me if they saw the ‘real’ me?’ we ask ourselves secretly. If the answer is no, then rest assured, our days will be filled with disillusionment.
This is what happens even in relationships. When the ‘honeymoon’ effect of a new relationship dies down, we start seeing the unmasked version of our partners. We may not see the persona that brought us together, that we fell in love with. It becomes difficult to fall in love with this unmasked version, especially if what you saw initially was very different from the original self. And, as if that was not sufficient, people change over time. We will not be the same person ten years later just as we are not the same person we were ten years before. The image we portray may remain the same, but our ‘real’ self has undergone change. That is why relationships are hard. That is why we fall out of love many a times. Because who we actually are is different from the image we portray based on which others have developed expectations.
Recently a professor of mine and college classmates got together for dinner. Few of us were working in corporates and some of them went on and on and on, on what can only be described as ‘corporate disillusionment’. I could empathise with them. For I myself sailed in the same boat many a times. Many companies say they encourage diversity (for the creativity that it brings), but in real life, all have a ‘ideal employee’ image they want employees’ to fall into. What if, who we are – our character – is different from this image that needs to be built, that we need to become, to succeed in that organisation?
If we try to be this ‘ideal employee’ we get disillusioned, because it is only this version of us (that includes traits we do not have) that is getting recognised, getting promoted and not the ‘real’ us. But, if we don’t toe the line, there is no more climbing the corporate ladder. Unfortunately, since we spend most of our waking time, by extension our life, at work, the more the difference between our character and work persona, the more disappointed and sad we become with life.
Understandably organisations, since they work on collaboration, encourage and want to see only amicable and friendly traits in all. Makes sense. ‘You are here to get work done. So don’t bother to show us any part of yourself that does not serve this goal’ seem to be the inherent message coming out from every organisation. And, since work is where people spend most of their waking time, if they don’t get to be who they are, but only what the organisation allows them to be, they become sad and disappointed rebelling against everyone and no one in particular. This starts affecting other aspects of their lives too.
This incongruence can be avoided if your values and the organisation’s values rhyme. So, it is very important when interviewing, that companies not just test for skills, but also check how culturally fit an individual is, with the organisation’s. And, it is the same fit that employees’ should also check for, while interviewing for a role. ‘Is it a place I want to be?’ But, more than organisations, because their work is to generate value & profit and not to make employees’ lives easier, the onus lies on individuals to check for this cultural fit, because it is their only life.
Susan Cain makes a really good point in her book, ‘Quiet‘ that when society changed from agriculture base to industrial, people started moving from villages to cities. In villages, many people knew each other (the real version), because of the scarce population and repeat interactions with them over time. But, in cities, with so many people we don’t know, to get recognised (read valued), we gravitate towards crowd pleasing and attention grabbing techniques like public speaking, elevator pitches & networking. Basically creating personas/wearing masks to please as many people as we can. ‘Cause here, network determines your net-worth and the only way to earn & maintain that network is by avoiding confrontation. So, what happens when my believes differ from yours? Do I keep quiet? or lie? Won’t both create dissonance between our inner-self & our persona?
Consider social media. People judge us based on what we share and like. So, we share only that we know our social circle will like. So, today it is ‘I share, therefore I am?’ Am I what I share, because people think of me based on that? I wonder what would Gandhi’s, Martin Luther King’s, or Mother Teresa’s profiles look like if they had one on Facebook. Would they tweet or share their original thoughts or only share stuff they know will generate the maximum likes? and get the maximum followers? The reason we look up to these individuals is that they did not project a carefully curated image. We saw who they were. They followed their values and what they believed-in. Some liked them, some didn’t. But, they didn’t go around creating different versions of themselves to win followers. Heck, they didn’t even start out to win followers. We still value them for their contributions came out of their character.
Ultimately the answer to this disillusionment, to my question from the first paragraph is, people will love you, for who you are, if that is what they value/fell in love with, in the first place. But, if they liked a ‘persona’ of yours, they’ll continue liking you or following you only till you keep up that charade. The day you drop it, will be the day of reckoning. A day that shows you if your success was real or shallow.
By being ourselves, we may not succeed in some organisations, our career graph may slow down, we may not win friends, we may fail at some relationships. But, we’ll at-least have ourselves and our success or failure will be genuine and not ring hollow.