I want to give a disclaimer: I’m writing this letter from a place of not knowing whether anything I think or say is right or wrong. I’m in an eternal state of thinking I’ve got the world and all its secrets figured out, only to realize the “revelations” I’ve come to are illusions that made sense just in the context of a personal dilemma I was going through.
But I’m going to give some advice like I know what I’m talking about. Why do I think I even have the right to do so? I guess because I’ve observed people as they go through breakups and depression, moments of pride and happiness. And I’ve observed myself going through many of the same things.
We’ve all heard the quote: “Life is 20 percent what happens to you and 80 percent how you respond.”
But in my experience, many people fail to respond to what happens to them at all — an outside force acts on them, and instead of responding, the outside force prompts only a surface-level reaction. One acknowledges their partner blew up at them when they forgot to do the dishes for the third time this week or that they hurt their co-worker after shooting down an idea.
They realize their actions negatively affected someone else. So what?
It’s easy for people to move past such situations like nothing happened, discounting the fact that they’ve upset someone else. I’m guilty of it. For the past few months, I’ve been stuck in a mindset of accepting my personal flaws and justifying my mistakes by deciding, “Hey, I’m doing my best as a person, and if someone likes me less because of an error of mine, who cares?”
That mindset can help curb anxiety and imposter syndrome, but it’s also a bit of a cop out. It’s choosing the easy way out rather than confronting the issue and reflecting on what you’ve done wrong. The first step is acknowledging that your actions affect other people, whether you think so or not. For me, that requires a deep look at who I am, compared with how everyone else sees me.
Every person has two versions of themselves: an internal self that only they know and the person they put on display for everyone else. But many aren’t conscious of who the latter is. This outwardly projected version of oneself is an abstract idea, but understanding it leads to personal growth. Seeing oneself through the lens of another person lets them understand the effects of their actions. Solving problems with others starts with figuring oneself out.
As the experimental rock band Butthole Surfers famously said in their 1996 hit single “Pepper,” “You never know just how you look through other people’s eyes.”
And they’re right — it’s impossible to know exactly how others see you. But by practicing self-consciousness, we can learn to point the finger at ourselves.
Senior Culture Editor