3 Versions of Reality: How We Perceive Ourselves, How We Think Others Perceive Us, and How Others Actually Perceive Us

After a year of careful consideration and research, I finally purchased a Funko Pop vinyl figure for my cubicle in the office.

But before I made my official decision, I sought my 3 year-old daughter’s confirmation. I presented her with the character figure of J.J. Abrams; the producer of Lost and the new Star Wars movies.

I asked her, “Holly, who is this?”

She immediately smiled and responded: “It’s Daddy!”

In that moment, I received confirmation that my own perception of myself truly matched not only how I perceived how others perceive me, but also, how others actually perceive me.  And sure enough, once I debuted my avatar at work this week, all of my co-workers agreed that the Funko Pop vinyl figure of J.J. Abrams does indeed look like me.

A few of my co-workers actually assumed had the figure custom-made!

However, this is somewhat of a rare occurrence:

That my perception of myself matched how I perceive how others perceive me, as well as how others actually perceive me.

One of my life’s revelations this year, after turning 38, is this:

By default, we spend a lot of our time hoping to change things about ourselves that wouldn’t actually make others like us or respect us anymore than they already do. Instead, we remain unaware of the things we could change about ourselves that would actually make us more likable.

We tend to incorrectly assume that others give as high of a value (if any!) to the same traits we place in the category of “If I Only I Was More…”

The irony is that perhaps if we actually obtained the self-assigned “improvements” we wished upon ourselves, others may not even notice at all!

Therefore, we spend much of our time hoping, wishing, and trying to make changes about ourselves that wouldn’t actually improve other people’s perceptions of ourselves; most ideally, improving our relationships with those people.

I’ll be a bit vulnerable here and give you a personal example.

All summer, I have been receiving “What You Were Doing 5 Years Ago” notifications and photos through Facebook.

That was the summer I had recently become a vegan. I was never in my life more perfectly thin and fit. I had finally reached my ideal body weight and clothing size.

I enjoyed that for about a year, before my body found a way to overwrite the shock of no longer consuming cholesterol through my diet. Within a couple of years, I was back to my original weight; despite still being vegan.

I have consistently ran, worked out, and altered my diet to include some animal protein again, but I’m still nowhere near that initial weight from 5 years ago.

But now, I have come to the realization that even if I was able to get back down to my perceived ideal weight of less than 160 pounds, it wouldn’t make anything better in my life… beyond the thoughts in my head.

And actually, back when I was my perceived ideal level of physical fitness 5 years ago, I believe I was less likable of a person back then anyway!

Before the age of 35, I was still giving power over my emotions to other people; still giving the free world free reign regarding the ability to offend me, hurt my feelings, and disrespect me.

I also was still to some degree attempting to prove my views and opinions were superior. I made a fool of myself on Facebook, mocking the concept of human beings consuming eggs and dairy from other species.

Because at that point, I had not reached the level of emotional intelligence I now live in.

It took that experience to help get me where I am today.

The closer I get to age 40 (I’m now just a year and a half way), the clearer my perspective becomes about how the world actually works… especially when it comes to human interaction.

The reality is that most of the time, the things we think will make us be better perceived by others actually have zero value to others.

Instead, most people notice and appreciate a person who is confident yet humble, who knows how to make others feel better about themselves, and invests their time, energy, skills, talents, and/or to help others.

That is what actually makes us liked and respected by people.

So yes, there are 3 different version of reality:

How we perceive ourselves, how we think others perceive us, and how others actually perceive us.

We get to decide for ourselves which version to accept.

Dear Jack: I Could and Would Die for You

4 years, 5 months.

Dear Jack: I Could and Would Give My Life for You

Dear Jack,

Without any hesitation, I could and would give my life for you.

However, I believe there is nothing heroic or surprising about that statement whatsoever.

Instead, it’s simply common knowledge, I would assume; that a father would simply in a moment either risk his life or give his life if he saw his child in serious danger. Cue a relevant song:

The reason I recently gave this thought is because recently when we took our mini vacation to Pensacola, we walked out to the end of the long fishing pier at Casino Beach. Mommy and I took turns holding you up to the guard rail to let you see over into the water.

(We were all surprised to the see the man next to us catch a small shark; which he ultimately was required to throw back into the ocean.)

As we left the pier and walked back to the beach, you asked me this:

“Daddy, what would happen if another child’s daddy or mommy was holding them and they pretended like they were going to throw their child into the water, but then they really did, but they didn’t mean to?”

I was amazed at such a deep, hypothetical question from a 4 and a half year-old little boy.

My answer was this:

“They would do whatever it takes to get their child back. If it were you that fell in, I would immediately jump in after you.”

Granted, I’m not sure I would survive the hit of impact of the water (that pier is pretty high off of the water), or that the water would absolutely be deep enough to save my fall.

Either way, I would follow you, even to death. Cue another relevant song:

This reminds me of a scene on one of my favorite shows, Lost; during the final season one of the main characters gets trapped in a submarine, after a bomb explodes, causing water to rush in.

Spoiler alert! Even though Lost ended almost exactly 5 years ago:

Her legs are pinned down from the explosion, leaving her upper half out of the water, as her husband desperately tried to bend the steel bars in order to free her.

After several attempts, he realizes it’s impossible. Though he himself was free and could escape instead of drowning, he chooses to stay with his wife; dying with her in the flood.

It was one of the most touching moment in Lost for me.

But ultimately, it wasn’t heroic. You undoubtedly would die for the people you love the most; without hesitation.

So yes, it’s a dark thought to think about you falling in the water or that we would not spend many more decades together here on Earth.

I just want you to know- I can’t imagine living the rest of my life with you or Mommy. If I felt I was about to lose either of you, I would instantly throw my life in front whatever it was to try to prevent anything bad from happening to you two.

Not because I’m some great guy, but simply because you and Mommy are my life. What would life be without you?

Love,

Daddy

Nashville Dad Attempts To Give Up Caffeine For Life

The Fear of Messing This Thing Up

July 20, 2011 at 8:53 pm , by 

Eight months.

As a dad, I have fears. Something I have learned in life is that when I say my fears out loud (or “type them out loud”), I can get a better handle on them, putting them into their proper perspective.  It’s my way of controlling my fears instead of them controlling me.

I’ve written before here on The Dadabase about my fear of not being able to financially providefor my family, as well as my fear of being responsible for my sonbeing seriously injured or killed. But today, instead of focusing on a financial or physical issue, my featured fear is a psychological one: It’s my fear that I will somehow “mess up” my son.

I get it. No parent is perfect or has this whole parenting thing all figured out, so I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I know; part of what helps us mature and have realistic expectations in life is when we are forced to be strong.  And of course, any parent who would be sensitive enough to worry about somehow messing up their kid is the exact kind of parent who probably won’t mess up their kid. I am aware of all those things.

Still, the longer I am a parent, the more I realize my potential to really prohibit or injure my son’s full potential in life. Sometimes it just starts to really sink in that I’ve brought a human life into existence and that my decisions greatly effect how he turns out.  And he has a soul, too. So it’s not just an earthly issue, but an eternal one, as well.

God evidently believes in my capabilities more than I do.

It was one thing when I was a single guy with no peripherals. But now, every tiny and humongous choice I make can ultimately mold my son into the person he will become.

How did I become qualified to be so powerful and influential in both my son and my wife’s life? Like Jack Shephard on Lost, I often feel like I am a reluctant leader who realizes the seriousness of the role I must play, as others depend on me to do so.  I am so not qualified for this job.  So undeserving.

Instead of falling through the chaotic vacuum of life unconnected to anyone who needs my care, my love, my guidance, and my providence, in reality, I hold the hand of a beautiful woman and a magical son who depend on me.

They don’t care about my imperfections. They don’t care about how little money I make. They don’t care about the fact that I am lucky to just be one step ahead of the game of life each day, if that.

As a man, I understand the importance of not dwelling on these fears. I was wired to be strong. I was wired to say, “Here’s what we’re going to do…” when a new problem arises, then I make sure that the plan gets carried out. I can’t worry about the very real fact that I opened up the most cosmic can of worms when I became a husband and father.

My job is to create an atmosphere of confidence, strength, hope, and faith, despite the clusterfog that often surrounds my family of three. And regardless how I may feel about my lack of qualifications or merit, the fact that I stay intact and refuse to ever think about giving up on them is perhaps one of the greatest signs that I do indeed have what it takes.

Wow. I do feel better now.

 

 

 

 

The First Day of the Rest of Our Lives

July 18, 2011 at 11:00 pm , by 

Eight months.

The reset button has been pressed and the screen has faded to white.

Today my family began life back on the magical island (a reference to Lost) of Nashville where we have been destined to live. It was a big day for all three of us:

I returned back to the same office where I used to work; my wife started a new job back at Vanderbilt University where she worked previous to our move; and Jack went to daycare for the first time, or  ”baby boarding school” as I like to think of it.

(I will inevitably be writing an entire post about my feelings about him going to daycare, in the near future.)

For me, starting back over in Nashville today felt like waking up from a long stretch of amnesia, where I remember dreaming of a strange parallel universe I had been living in for eight months; only it wasn’t a dream.  It was real life.  It’s like suddenly having  a flash drive in the USB port of my brain which contains the acquired data to help me best function in this “redo” of my life.

As I rode my mountain bike from my office to Jack’s daycare to briefly visit him during my lunch break, I noticed several businesses and restaurants that have been replaced by new ones; while others are surprisingly still around. And in my office most of the same people were still there to welcome me back, though I saw several unfamiliar, and therefore strange, new people who were walking around the place as if they knew what they were doing.

But it was me who wasn’t there all along, for I was receiving my necessary life education lessons back in Alabama.  As of last night, we have officially unpacked our bags. Though we still have a lot of our stuff still in storage, there already is the undeniable sense of “home” for us here.  Because despite what we thought was right for us a year ago, we belong here, in Nashville.

I loved being back at my old office today. And my wife is really excited about her new job.  As for Jack, I will just have to assume he’s having a good time in daycare; hanging out with other babies who are the same age, yet a lot smaller than he is.  I know he’s in good hands, but it’s just tough that they are not our hands.

The time has come for all three of us to grow up and move forward; together as a family of three.

Photos courtesy of Moments in Time Photography in Fort Payne, Alabama:

www.mitbyamie.com

 

The Bittersweet Move Back to Nashville: July 16th

July 11, 2011 at 10:38 pm , by 

Seven months.

Yes, you did read that right.  No, this isn’t a rerun from March.  This coming Saturday on July 16th as Jack turns eight months old, we return to Music City for keeps.

Imagine you’re me.  You were raised in the Eighties and were taught that money isn’t everything but that being happy is.  You were constantly told that if you really believe, you can achieve your dreams.  So at age 29, you decide to choose happiness over money and move your wife and 3 week old son back to your hometown to be close to family.  You willingly choose less money and less busyness with the purest intentions.

Enter four months of unemployment, then living from savings despite eventually getting a job.  Then after eight months since moving, you come to the realization that it is not a choice to move your family back to Nashville, but simply the only option.

It’s ironic how it took me four months to find a job and how my wife was sent countless rejection letters for all the places she applied, never landing a job that would keep us from dipping into savings every month; yet in a matter of just a few days and few emails, both my wife and I have jobs lined up in Nashville where we will begin Monday, July 18th.

Our former employers are taking us back.  It’s that simple.  Granted, this means we have to put Jack in daycare.  We will barely see him on weekdays because by the time I drive him home from daycare, he will only be awake for an hour before it’s his bedtime.

So, how do I feel about this?  Bittersweet.

We came here truly believing that we would be spending the rest of our lives here; thinking it would be the last time we would have to unpack our things. And when it seemed our expectations were being threatened, we only tried that much harder to make this work.  But our resistance was futile.

As I have mentioned before, a married man can never stop thinking about his need to provide for his family. So imagine what kind of psychological toil this constant wondering has taken on my own sanity.  For the fact we will be able to pay our bills without dipping into what’s left of our savings; well, that’s more relieving than I can say.  But yes, we will have to move away from my family and they won’t see Jack as much as they used to.

He and his cousin were going to be attending the same school and be in the same grade.  Not now, though.  It’s only a 2 and a half hour drive, but still, things will be somewhat different.

By this point, I am nearly emotionless when it comes having to repack our lives again.  Because again, it’s not a choice to be made; it’s the only option.

So I am accepting my fate.  I was not meant to live in my hometown with my family.  Instead, I was meant to live and work in Nashville, one of my favorite cities in the world.

I am choosing to move forward and be positive about it.  There have been a lot of things we’ve missed tremendously about Nashville: Our church, our friends, our quirky restaurants, proximity to Country music stars, and surprisingly more than you would think, shopping for groceries at Publix, where shopping is a pleasure.

As much as I enjoyed growing up in my hometown and the great memories I always have, it has ultimately proven to be the wrong fit for the 2011 version of me, which includes my wife and son.  And that’s not my hometown’s fault.  It’s just that Nashville is simply where we belong.

My wife and I met there.  My wife was baptized there.  We got married there.  Our son was born there.  Heck, even this blog was born there.

One of our mutually favorite movies is Away We Go, starring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph.  As they prepare for the birth of their first child, they travel to several cities to figure out where their new home as a family is.  It’s obviously very relatable for my wife and me.

After sticking it out this long, we were obviously more than willing to make this thing work in my hometown.  But now it’s time to return to where our home, as a family, is.

Need another pop culture reference?  This reminds me of the best TV show ever made (and that ever will be made), Lost.  Those who crashed on the island were “chosen” by the island for a purpose.  Even when six of them eventually found a way to leave and go back to their homes, they ultimately had to return because the island still needed them there.

For us, Nashville is the island.  We just need to watch out for those darn polar bears.

dad from day one: Jack is Now Six Months Old, Officially Has Blue Eyes and Weighs 19.2 Pounds

Week 26 (6 months).

Despite the cliche, “they grow up so fast,” I will admit that these past six months have been the quickest six months of my life.  And yes, Jack has definitely sprouted up very quickly.  Six months ago my wife and I held a baby in our arms, with zero personal experience.  Now, we have no longer have a newborn, but instead an infant.  An infant who can eat ground up fruits, veggies, and grains- not just formula.  Who is attempting to crawl.  Who is outgrowing his original car seat.

And I’ve been waiting until Jack turned six months old to officially say what has been pretty obvious for a while now: Jack has blue eyes.  I know there was a possibility that his eyes could get darker up until this point.  I never thought that it was even possible for my wife and I to have a blue eyed child.  It’s pretty funny, actually.

Not only has Jack changed in so many big ways since November 16th, 2011.  But I have as well.  You can’t be a parent and not become a different person in the process.  Even in just six month’s time.  Especially in the first six month’s time.

Am I writing this morning about Jack or myself?  Equally both, at best.  At age 29, when we found out we were going to have a baby, I had reached a point in my life where I evidently stopped growing and maturing as a person.  And since he was born, I’ve made up for any lost time as far as personal development.

I’ve undergone so many changes in the last six months that the best and perfect comparison would be to Desmond on Lost, who traveled in and out of time, disoriented of where and “when” he was.  I do feel spaced out, in the most literal way that the phrase “spaced out” can be used.  I’m trying to remember what it means to “be myself,” when becoming a father obviously changes that version of “myself” who I completely understood and had figured out.

Of course, these “who am I?” sort of thoughts aren’t red flags for some kind of personal crisis.  Instead, this is just me pointing out that I (and I assume other first time parents, too) undergo so many changes in their life at once that they have to take time to deliberately and specifically figure out who this new person is that they’ve become.  Not a bad version of who they are; just the different version that is required of them in becoming a parent.

By no means does a person stop growing up just because they turn 30.  Instead, some of the greatest maturity is happening at that age, for me.  And at six months old, I think it’s safe to say that Jack is experiencing some of the same thoughts in his own little baby brain.  The question is whether or not he’s more spaced out than I am.