Last week I had a delightful conversation regarding business management strategy with someone who subsequently shared it with her husband. They felt that they were up against a wall, but from my perspective it appeared a fabulous opportunity, with a few careful steps now. I hesitated to give my opinions (okay, I didn’t and I never do, but I did and usually do think twice about intruding after the fact) so when he emailed me very soon thereafter I wasn’t sure how to interpret his opening sentence.
“In recent years, I’ve noticed a change in you.” He went on to say very nice things, but I found myself pondering on this unique and unusual external evaluation. I spent almost three years recently in school working hard to learn and being distracted by working hard for external evaluations. I felt myself glow when they were positive, and chafe when they were not, and was often enticed to engage in something I didn’t believe in just to secure the glowing review. I eventually became convinced that this was a destructive pattern for me, though I respect and admire those who can find peace with it.
As consistently as I tell myself that it doesn’t matter what others think, that what matters is how I feel about my work, I still find myself curious where I stand with people. What do I look like through the borders of their cheekbones and eyelashes? It’s a terrible vanity and I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it’s real.
So when my friend noticed a change in me, I wondered, “how am I now, and how was I then?” It’s one thing to actively pursue growth and to see changes within ourselves and to say, “I’ve come a long way, baby.” When others notice our development, it’s so nice to hear them tell us how wonderful we are, … now. We are a great fill-in-the-blank, they say, and we glow. There is a subtle difference in saying, “you’ve changed.” With that statement our present better self is brought nose-to-nose with an earlier version of us. That’s disconcerting.
It feels as if, perhaps, others carry around old versions of us, ones we would like to replace with the more updated model, especially since we’ve worked so hard on the revisions. But those old versions are hidden, not like an old computer sitting on the counter that we recognize and say, “Oh, here, let me sub that out for the newer model – it has a lot more features.” They get to choose whether to update their version of you or not. That’s disconcerting.
I know someone with whom I’ve worked for the past few years who has changed in very measurable, obvious ways. He has become a giant and everyone sees it. A year or so ago I told him that he had changed a lot, and he instantly replied that I had too. We were both right, but I remember feeling twitted that I hadn’t always been as good as I then was, at least in his sight. It never even occurred to me that I’d just said the same thing to him! That’s disconcerting!
I’m so glad to know, from someone else’s perspective, that I’m succeeding in my quest to better myself. I’m going to try to be more tolerant of previous versions of me that I may come upon here and there. And I’m going to be as willing as my dear friend to update versions of other people in my own mind.
After all, nobody is meant to stay in a cocoon indefinitely.