Shifting my Perspective

It’s Thursday, so I’m Crafting my Life! For 2011, I have ditched the themes and link-ups. Instead, I am just going to write what I’m thinking about this week. And if you would like to chime in and contribute a guest post about your own journey, please drop me a line and we’ll chat.

I am an anxious person. I tend to worry, in particular, about the past. After I leave a party I can spend hours agonizing about what I said and what other people said and what they must think of me. In retrospect, I am always pretty much certain that I made a fool out of myself. Intellectually, I know that everyone else is too caught up in their own stuff to think about me, but somehow that doesn’t really help. That’s the thing about anxiety – it’s not exactly rational.

My anxiety reached its peak about 10 years ago. I ended up seeing a therapist through my employer’s wellness plan. It was good. She used cognitive-behavioural therapy, and it really helped me to identify my thought patterns and get to the root of what was going on. I saw that a lot of my anxiety was based on what I imagined was happening, instead of what actually was happening. I also learned that my biggest fear was that I was just like my father. A lot of my anxiety centered around proving to myself that I was good, and therefore not like him. Realizing that I was already a very different person than my dad helped me immensely.

As I worked through many of my issues, I was able to let go of some of my anxiety. But equally important, I was able to recognize the ways that being a charmingly neurotic Type A personality works for me. Because the truth is that there are many upsides to being this way. I am able to shoulder a lot of responsibility, and when I need to I can get a lot done. You can generally count on me to follow through, and you won’t have to send me lots of email reminders to make sure that I meet my deadline. My excessive good-ness has actually served me very well in my life.

Here’s the thing – often, the only difference between a “strength” and a “weakness” is your perspective. Many of the personal traits that seem catastrophic in one situation can serve us very well in another. I think that the secret to life lies not so much in lamenting our personal shortcomings, as finding ways to live so that we can play to our strengths. Whether that’s starting lots of new projects, or being extremely detail-oriented, or working best when you’re surrounded by other people.

I often hear people say things like, “I wish I were more …” or, “I wish that I didn’t …” It’s natural to feel this way from time to time. But I can guarantee you that there are people out there who wish they were more like you. For every person who wishes that they weren’t constantly starting lots of projects and not finishing them, there’s somebody else who feels stuck in their work and can’t think of something else to try. And for every person who wishes that they were more outgoing, there’s someone who wishes they didn’t talk so much. Again, it’s all a matter of perspective.

Knowing that doesn’t always make life easier, though. Or, at least, it doesn’t completely end the wishing. I wish that I found it easier to socialize with people I just met. I wish that I didn’t spend lots of time re-hashing every social situation I find myself in, picking out all the things I shouldn’t have said. But the reality is that I am who I am. I believe that I can work on my stuff and improve myself. But I also believe that, in general, my personality is pretty well-formed at this point.

The best thing that I can do, if I want to live a life that fulfills me, is to work with the tools I’ve been given. I can figure out what makes me tick, and what makes my Type A heart sing, and play to my strengths. I may not be great at small talk, but I’m pretty good at writing, so I do that. I may get mired in details and forget to look at the big picture, but there are some tasks that feed on details, and I can do those really well. When I write my own rules for my life I’m the same person, but I feel happier because I’m not fighting myself at every turn.

I’m striving to embrace myself, just as I am. I’m working to understand what makes me tick, so that I can create a life that fits me, instead of this person I think maybe I would like to be. Crafting my Life isn’t about being someone else, as it turns out. It’s about being the best me I can be, and intentionally living a life that fits that me. Just as I am.

Now, tell me. Do you have any personality traits that can seem either catastrophic or fabulous depending on your perspective? And how do you work to your own strengths? I’d love to hear!

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  1. From your description, I am very much like you. I have anxiety, I suck at making small talk, I agonize over things I’ve said to people and I feel uncomfortable in most social situations. Yay me! Like you, I’ve tried to make the most of these qualities and my personality pushes me to continually put myself into these situations so I always find myself in jobs where I’m helping people. My role at work is a very public one, I know a lot of people in my organization and a lot of people come to me for help. Also something that I like about my job is that my workload is completely driven by me, I make my own deadlines and it works well for me. So I feel like I’m exactly where I need to be. I still beat myself up over things I’ve said but I realize this is just part of being me and I usually tell myself to let it go and find something else to do.
    Tanya’s last post … Life- Luck and the UniverseMy Profile

  2. I’m in a pretty crappy place mentally right now. Intellectually I get this post, but my knee-jerk reaction is ‘well, I’m so glad you’re okay with being you — but duh, you’re awesome. How am I supposed to be okay with being me when I so clearly SUCK?’. My friend Zarah who is also a voracious reader comments sometimes on how some people think when they’ve read more books than usual it’s something to be proud of, while for me reading is so close to a compulsion that I feel the need to downplay how much I do it, so I get the perspective thing. But my perspective is stuck pretty deep in a February snowdrift right now. I guess I should start digging.
    allison’s last post … Thoughts upon watching too much tv on a Friday NightMy Profile

  3. I have often thought about this dual, love/hate relationship with my personality traits. One of my biggest strengths is that I can communicate with almost anyone, in any situation. I can almost always calm people down if they are agitated, and can flutter around a party and talk to everyone in the room. I listen well and make friends really easily. The converse of that, and similarly something I don’t like about myself, is that I often feel like a fraud. Like any moment, someone is going to know that I’m really just faking and they don’t even know who I am at all. But I know that I’m not really being fake… just me. This was my biggest fear of my wedding, when so many different family/friends from different aspects of my life would converge… I worried that if they conferred with each other that they would conclude that they all knew a very different me. But I know it’s not really true, and it was never a problem.

  4. Love this… all a matter of perspective.

    And truth be told if I ever set up a gang of mothers you are so in that gang.
    Mel’s last post … Why I do what I do and some thoughts on businessMy Profile

  5. I really agree with what you said about it being a matter of perspective, and how choosing to have a positive perspective is so empowering. Don’t you love the 30s for finally figuring this stuff out?!
    Wendy Irene’s last post … Rewards Credit Cards- Are They Right for YouMy Profile

  6. Thanks, I needed that.
    I’m flirting with being melancholy right now (it usually happens in Spring), fighting my personality demons and second guessing how others perceive me… I’m tempted to just isolate myself more than I already am. I’ve tried the who-cares-I-am-who-I-am line of defense too, and it just got other people to shrink back. There must be a happy middle ground for me somewhere.
    *pol’s last post … GoodbyeMy Profile

  7. I even find myself agonizing after writing a comment on a blog or twitter or what not because, gasp!, what if it came out wrong and now I sound foolish?

    But, like you, I’m working at keeping it all in perspective and Crafting My Life is helping with that so to you, THANKS 🙂
    Jenn’s last post … Home at lastMy Profile

  8. “the only difference between a “strength” and a “weakness” is your perspective”

    Oh. I like this. I like this very much. I need to remember this. I need to teach it to my kids.

    And my worst personality trait is the adamant stance that no one — NO ONE!! — will ever take advantage of me. In any way shape or form.

  9. I think about this a lot in terms of my children – ‘oh that stubborn nature will serve him well as a CEO / struggling artist’ but not so much w/r/t myself. Like you, I am super-responsible, but unlike you I constantly mess with myself by shirking responsibilities and then feeling bad about it. I also hate to be wrong. Which, flipped, serves me well because I try not to talk about stuff I don’t understand, in case someone tells me I’m an idiot, so I learn more.

  10. Most self improvement and/or business books address fixing weaknesses, but I read an interesting article (wish I could remember where) about focusing on strengthening strengths instead. The idea was that a person might never get brilliant in the weak areas (as long as they weren’t TOO weak), but could be a market-changer in a strong area. It doesn’t work when taken to extremes, but is an interesting counterpoint.
    Lady M’s last post … A Boy and His MooseMy Profile

  11. Hi Amber, I too can relate to what you write and you write it so well. I also worry how peole perceive me. It’s a trait I have and am learning to live and work with it. It came as a shock to me when I realised that I was actually deluded. I used to be certain that I could tell who did and did and did not like me. Once my character trait moved into my awareness I was able to see (and accept) I could be wrong. At university I feel some of the class don’t like me but recently, 5 of them wrote letters of recommendation for a role I wanted to do. I was perplexed when they said lovely things about my personality and grateful of the reminder once again that I’m not a bad person and neither am I psychic – I can’t read peoples minds. Social situations still drive me crazy though although I am getting better. I have accepted that I am human, not everyone is going to like me and time spent worrying about it is wasted – it’s all perception, like you say. I agree for every negative trait we have a positive. We truly are yin and yang – one trait can’t exist without the other and that’s what makes us wonderfully diverse. Thanks for writing that. I love honesty. Facade and gloss ain’t my cup of tea – but them I’m not everybody’s cup of tea either. Love from Andrea xx

  12. It’s wonderful that you can see yourself so clearly. I don’t think I have that.
    Francesca’s last post … in passing – two yearsMy Profile

  13. It’s totally true. I’m excessively anxious as well but I’m always on time, always get the job done and am super reliable. I’m on the hyper side but I’m fun at a party. Hee hee. Nonetheless, I do admire calm people 😉
    harriet Fancott’s last post … Frank Questions About Open AdoptionMy Profile

  14. I am reminded of a saying that states that “a weakness is a strength overdone”. For example, impatience might come from the need to be speedy and efficient. Certainly, it’s a personality trait that I have to watch. But, on the other hand, that impatience, when harnassed, gets me through a ton of work at a ferocious speed, so I kind of rely on that.

    As for the extroversion/introversion issue, I am a happy extrovert who will meet and greet all day long. I have felt criticized from those not like me as being glib or superficial. Such judgements. Who is to say how deep or honest another’s reactions are if we don’t live in each other’s skin? And I’m guessing you will want me and my ilk around when you’re hosting a gathering, won’t you?

    I so agree with playing to strengths and am amused to see how often over the years my work partners have been my opposite and how good a team we have become. And why is it that I have so many friends who are low emote when I am, well, high emote and out there? Again, so many opportunities to misunderstand, but to value, and learn from, as well. I find the balance rich and interesting when I can get my head out of my…..ego.

    One of the things the extroverts in my family suffer from is what we call, “nervous mouth”. When those of you who are calm and analytical are thinking about what to say and leaving those yawning, great silences (OK, maybe only a few nano seconds to you, but eternities to us) we fill up the space with….blah, blah, blah. And then go away feeling like chumps. See how it works both ways?

    Finally, a propos of nothing in the topic, but something I’ve been needing to say. Occasionally when I read the responses of such different people to a blog, none of whom I know, but several of whom I am enjoying recognizing, I read a very vulnerable statement. It may be of loneliness or sadness or defeat. And no one responds. So, this time, I want to say to those who post such feelings: thanks for sharing those. I recognize those feelings because they’re familiar to me. And I want you to know that whether it’s a bad day, the winter blahs, lack of sleep or whatever, I hope tomorrow is better. We’re all in this together, I figure. That’s the beauty of blogging, isn’t it?

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