Monday, October 19, 2009

Being Yourself

I just read a fascinating short blog entry about being yourself in the face of others' expectations. The section that caught my eye was this one:
The ability to just be yourself is a lot harder to come by than we might think. And one of the biggest obstacles can be race. Specifically, racial stereotypes.

I’m not particularly meek, yet at almost every job I’ve held, people have thought of me as a shy and quiet Asian girl. Because of that, I’ve always had to project an exaggerated version of my personality, just to be perceived as normal.

What kinds of racial stereotypes do you find yourself battling on a daily basis? What elements of your authentic self are you suppressing? How is race getting in the way of your self-expression without you even knowing it?
Wow. Think about it... is it more true to yourself to simply be yourself, or to adjust the way you present yourself to the world so that you are correctly interpreted by those around you? It's not just about race. It's about religion or lack thereof, it's about gender and sexuality, it's about family and parenting, it's about our chosen professions (insert lawyer joke here)...

I once worked for a judge who let his clerks wear whatever they wanted in chambers, but not when a criminal case was in his courtroom -- then the clerks had to wear suits. He wanted to make sure that we not only gave the defendant a fair trial, but that we gave the appearance of fairness and professionalism. He knew that his clerks would perform the same considered legal analysis in a t-shirt and shorts as in a jacket and tie, but he also knew that sloppy attire could be misunderstood as a sign that we didn't care about the proceedings. And so he took steps to ensure we never gave out the wrong messages.

What do I try to communicate on a daily basis, without even realizing it? I don't wear makeup, but that doesn't mean I don't care about my appearance. I'm a lawyer, but I'm not an ambulance-chaser. I'm between jobs, but I'm not sitting on the couch all day eating bon-bons. I'm not who you might think I am.

How about you? Do you make adjustments to the way you express yourself to make sure that you are correctly viewed by others? What stereotypes do you think people place on you before they get to know you? Do you adjust your self-presentation to correct for that?


  1. Definitely. Being a missionary comes with its own stereotypes, none of which are true. Of course, if I don't tell people I'm a missionary, I get the "lazy spoiled leech" look since I'm not currently working and living in my parents' house. It's a catch-22. Thankfully, that's changing because now I can tell people that I'm coming on staff with an organization.

  2. I suppose I do. Setting and social circle matter, I'm much different with close friends and family.

  3. I'm a pastor's wife. That's loaded with expectations. I work on being known on my own merits outside of this role. Plus, I have one fantastic husband who supports who I am, what I do, and how I think.

  4. I've been learning this for myself, and it's actually a big lesson for my main character, too!

  5. Fascinating. After I finished with my blog post for today I checked my Google Reader and went to your post. I was surprised by how similar the content was. I think thematically we were quite different, but our approaches were somewhat alike. Check it out & let me know what you think.

    But as far as what you are saying, I like to be authentically me. I don't fit well into the traditional corporate image which is why I've probably ended up in some fairly unorthodox work settings. I want to be recognized for my ideas and what I can do, not by what kind of suits and ties I have in my wardrobe.

  6. Interesting. Being an ironworker, people assume I’m a pea-brained, Neanderthal type of brute with testosterone to spare and picture my weekends with me screaming at the football game on TV with a six pack at my side. I understand because I somewhat look the part. When I tell them I’m a writer (or a musician), they all seem to be surprised.

    I don’t really adjust the way I act much. I'm comfortable now with who I am. I rarely watch sports and I never drink beer. I may appear to be a dim-witted blue collar worker, but I can beat everyone I know at Scrabble and chess any day of the week.

    I'm also half-retarded with a sense of humor that takes getting used to . I'm constantly putting my foot in my mouth so maybe they're right.


  7. Very interesting post.

    Hmm. I think when people first see me, they see a quiet, rather shy, librarian-type. I'm pretty much that way - but I can be wild and crazy, too.

    I like to think that when people see me, they really DO see me. There's one exception to this, however. I have always wanted to dress more vintage - from the 30s and 40s to Victorian-inspired outfits. I would love to wear hats. But I can't make myself do it. I can't leave the house looking like that unless I'm going to a costume party. That's one area where I wish I were stronger and could reveal that part of my personality.

  8. This is timely. I was just feeling rather sorry for myself because I got a load of crap from various people at work this morning. It always seems to me that no one appreciates the range of what I can do, that because I have a child I am not as good as I could be, or because I'm a small female I can be easily talked over.

    I hate that I'm not meek, but I come across that way in the end.

  9. I've lived most of my adult life overseas being judged as a loud mouth, arrogant American, imperialist, millionaire... well, you get the point.
    I am just me, all the time, take it or leave it. Most people tell me, "You don't act like an American." However, when I ask, "How many Americans do you know?" They usually say,"Just you!"
    I figure stereotypes re like rules...meant to be broken!

  10. People take me as a stereotypical Jersey wiseguy. I've tried to change my look and my accent but it doesn't work.

    I've had people down here actually ask if I could get rid of a problem for them. That's right-have someone whacked!

    Then they get mad when I tell them how much it costs' ---go figure---

  11. Interesting brain fodder. Now I'm thinking....

    I think it's more important to BE yourself, than worry about yourself being correctly interpreted, because interpretation is so subjective. Act one way all the time, and each person you encounter will filter their opinions through their own experience. It's impossible to monitor how we are perceived by others.

    Just my humble opinion. :)

  12. I think that some people mistake my shyness for snobbiness. Also, being from New Orleans, people have a lot of stereotypes about that.

  13. I think that I take the Barack Obama approach.

    I'm a youngish, black, gay lady.

    I just show up exactly how I feel like showing up that day and let people work it out around me.
    It's amazing the kind of responses I've gotten about my ties at work.

    Also, I look a lot younger than I am, so that always throws people off.

    I love it when who I know myself to be, face-palms the viewer's impression of who I am (like when I talk about opera or my love of Barbra Streisand).

    I think it as a teaching moment.

  14. I try not to make adjustments for other people, but I guess I do it. We all do to some extent I suppose :)

  15. As much as we try, I think we all hide parts of ourselves from others. We all need personal boundaries. However, the key for me is trying to portray who I really am--both good and bad. It's easy to get into the trap of only letting people see the good and then we come across as perfect when we know we're not!

  16. I read this yesterday and I had to think about it for a while. I think I work to overcome the stigma that comes with being a stay-at-home mom. I don't want people to look at me and think I just stay home with my kids because I'm not smart enough or driven enough to get a real job.

    If I'm totally honest with myself I think this is some of the reason I started writing. I wanted to show that I'm competent-- that I can do something great even though I don't have a career.