When I was growing up, I used these words to describe myself: passionate, ambitious, energetic, optimistic, creative and fearless.
I’d do and say things that reflected these traits. I was in a rock band, a country band, heck, even an all analogue synth band. I’d find any excuse to get closer to my goal of being on stage, living in NYC and hanging out with Beyoncé. I was behaving in a way that celebrated my wonderful, weird and wild personality.
As I got a bit older and moved into the workforce, those traits started to move into the background.
I started acting in ways that weren’t the real me. I was stressed out by a job that I didn’t entirely understand, working in a dysfunctional workplace, seeing someone who had body dysmorphia, I was working out way too much and eating very little. Oh, and I was smoking ten cigarettes and having four coffees a day.
As the years went by, those wonderful traits of my personality started to appear less, and instead, these traits started to replace them:
Work obsessed, anxious, loud, defensive, stressed.
Doesn’t sound very creative, does it. For someone who had always prided themselves on being outgoing, positive and creative, I wasn’t displaying any of those traits. I was behaving in the opposite way.
After months of living off cigarettes, work and little else, even my closest friends were getting sick of my behaviour. At one point, a friend pulled me aside and said ‘Rach, I love you, but you’ve got a serious attitude problem’.
It’s a pretty horrible feeling someone telling you you’re acting like a jerk.
My friend was telling me I wasn’t acting like myself. My coping mechanisms had taken over the wonderful parts of my personality and replaced them with traits that were plain and simple jerk-esque.
As others used these words to describe me, I started to believe it and started to use these words, or this narrative, to define me. When people asked how I was, I’d just repeat these words at them so I could get in first.
‘You know me - the loud one!’
‘I’m so busy. I am SO busy’.
Perception is reality, after all.
My personality hadn’t changed - my behaviour had.
The behaviours I was exhibiting were simply coping mechanisms to a shitty situation. And one of my own making. I didn’t have any boundaries at work, I worked every day, I said yes to everything and I defined my self worth based on what I looked like.
It was a recipe for jerk behaviour.
Me being stressed only affected myself, I thought. But it didn’t - it affected every relationship I had. My friends called me out for asking questions and not listening to the answers. I forgot birthdays. I couldn't remember conversations because I couldn't concentrate. I skipped social outings to avoid eating around other people. I missed valuable time with people who enriched my life because I was being a self obsessed jerk.
When we are stressed, it affects every person around us.
Recently a friend called me. She was fed up with a friend of hers who had acted like a jerk. ‘It’s so out of character’, she said. It was out of character. The jerk move was symptomatic of something else, likely unrelated to their dynamic, but it didn’t change how it had affected my dear caller.
Being stressed doesn't just affect you - it affects everyone around you. When our behaviour changes it limits every part of our life. Our relationships face hardship. Our bodies start to play up (migraines, anxiety, loss of sleep, stomach cramps, anyone?). Our family avoid bringing up the elephant in the room.
People define you based on how you behave.
Sane friends protect themselves and remove themselves from bad behaviour. Exceptional friends tell you when you’re being a jerk.
This week I’d like to challenge you to get real about your behaviour, as a good friend would.
Write down in one column, the personality traits that are unique to you. Then write down how you currently feel. How are you really, really behaving, based on what you see?
If you don't feel shit-hot right now, there something at play that’s informing how you currently feel? Is there a way to look at work / your relationships / your body in a different way? Do you have the courage to accept you may be behaving in a way that doesn't help celebrate your wonderful personality and is perhaps having an impact on those around you who love you?
And if you are lovin and celebrating your unique personality ... are you bringing your full, wild, weird, wonderful self into everything you do?
If not, what’s stopping you?