How We Are Perceived
Why are other people interested in us? This is likely a question we take for granted, because we are often so focused on how we are being perceived that we neglect to consider the why. Why should anyone else care about us, anyway? Sure, our family and friends have a vested interest in our story line. There are stakes involved for those we share some intimacy with. If we wake up one morning and decide to move to Bermuda, those living under our roof might feel that this decision is consequential to them. If we suddenly discover we have a serious illness, those that rely on us for emotional, financial, or spiritual support would likely find this information relevant to them. We matter to these people for a myriad of reasons. But what about others that don’t have a personal investment in us?
In order for anyone to be interested in us, there has to be a link between our story and theirs, or elements of our identity that reflect something about their own. We are all selfishly oriented in that what matters to us is, in effect, us. Yes, we feel love for others, empathy for strangers, value in giving ourselves to a cause. But these seemingly selfless emotions are, in fact, tied to our own selfish desires. We care about others because it makes us feel good. We empathize with individuals because we are able to relate to them – their circumstances are somehow reflective of something we have experienced, and so it holds relevance to our world.
When considering how we are perceived, it’s important to remember that other people’s perceptions are really just a reflection of their own values, beliefs, expectations and needs. I’m sure we’ve all been given counsel to avoid caring about what other people think, but this is often slightly misunderstood advice. Of course there are consequences involved in the perceptions of others. How a potential employer identifies us can make or break a job opportunity. How our partner views our habits or personality can affect the way they respond to us, and therefore make our living arrangements more or less challenging. “Not caring” about what others think of us isn’t realistic, because we experience the effects of these perceptions in everything that we do. What’s important to recognize, however, is that we don’t have ultimate control over these perceptions. Influence, yes, but never authority. People live their lives through their own lens, and that includes how they place judgments on us.
So what does that mean for storytellers, or for the contexts in our lives in which we must portray ourselves in a certain light? As a copywriter and resume strategist, storytelling is all about perception, and making choices about how we reveal details is done in order to craft a specific, targeted narrative. So if we can’t control how others perceive things, what good is deliberate storytelling?
More than anything, I believe that storytelling allows us to find confidence – to move through this world with direction, connection and organization. In any given context, we can truly be whoever we want to be, but having a concise and inspiring story enables opportunities. When we write a resume, we select certain skills, accomplishments, and traits that paint a specific picture that we want to tell, not just to align with the potential requirements of an employer, but to give us a solidified sense of who we are within a professional context. When we explain our products and services to potential customers, we don’t just want to offer specs about the offering, we want to explain its value within a certain platform that gives it relevance. We want to share its ability to provide a solution to the audience’s problem – a story that connects the service to the recipient. In doing so, we reinforce its value to ourselves, and in turn solidify its meaning.
It’s easy to make the claim that we don’t care about the perceptions of others, but this is never the full story. I would never advise anyone to prioritize the opinions of others, because as I said, there is no real way of ensuring that our intentions for their opinion of us can ever be achieved. Nor does it have to be. Our opinion of ourselves is what generates opportunities mainly because it streamlines our objectives and purpose. When we have a definitive picture of what something is, we are able to fit it into the matrix of our own expectations. Yes, in some cases, strategy plays a big part in our storytelling, but that doesn’t mean it has to be inauthentic. And, more importantly, we should always prioritize the goals of storytelling to offer more meaning and definition to ourselves, first.
Why should someone hire us? Why should someone purchase our products or solicit our services? Why should anyone care about who we are and what we have to offer? The truth is, if we care about ourselves and invest in telling ourselves a powerful story, others catch on. Not everyone, but not everyone is needed, or even preferred. We don’t want everyone to love us, or buy from us, or even give us the time of day. But we do want quality connections and opportunities. And if we are able to identify who we are and what we have to offer, that story will resonate with the right people on its own, and the opportunities that open up to us will support the storyline that gives us joy. And isn’t that what everything is truly all about?