On a recent Facebook update, someone who read my post about stepping into your light shared how she’s often been told by other women friends that she’s too much of something: “You’re too artsy.” “You’re too flirty.”
Her comment jumped out at me. You’re too ________. How many times has somebody said something like that, something that makes us shrink back and reduce the fullness of who we are or what we want to be? You’re too smart. You’re too good at math. You post too many blog posts. You talk too much. You care too much. You’re too involved. You’re too concerned with making money. You’re too rich or successful. What have you been told you’re too much of?
And what about the opposite of too much, when you’re not enough? You’re not good enough. You’re not tough enough. You’re not experienced enough. You’re not qualified enough. You’re not “mom enough.” You’re not attractive enough.
I notice how often other people’s reactions to me don’t seem to have any basis in reality or any real reflection of what I was trying to do or say. When I’m told I’m too much this or not enough that, I try to remind myself this sort of reaction is usually 90% shaded by that person’s own life, what has happened to her and what she does and does not value, 7% shaded by what mood she was in when she woke up that day, and if I’m super lucky, 3% shaded by an actual concern for my own well-being. Do you know what I’m talking about? When you try to be completely clear in your writing, or an office conversation, or a feeling you share, and you get an out-of-left-field response?
Once I wrote about the fact that I’m very uncomfortable with babies. If you know me and my experience with postpartum depression, that probably makes sense, and yet one ParentDish commenter responded to the piece by saying I deserved to have my ovaries carved out so that I could never have children. Another time I wrote about how worried I was about allowing my son to skip a grade, and later saw several people in a Facebook conversation about the piece say that I was obviously too concerned with my kid’s grades and success and that he’d probably be a miserable adult.
I have to continually remind myself these people are deep inside their own heads, fighting their own battles, defending their own insecurities and not responding to me. I’m imagining you’ve experienced the same, whether it’s in social media, at work, at the bus stop or through the neighborhood grapevine.
Sometimes what people say has to be pushed aside for sanity’s sake. You can’t let it soak into even the uppermost layer of your skin. Other times their responses may be an indicator that something needs to change, or that perhaps you’re not in the best place, doing the best things for you.
Once I was doing a presentation at my corporate job and the chief marketing officer of the company I worked for at the time (many eons ago) came into the room and watched me speak. Later I received feedback that he had said my performance was too flaky. Too flaky?! I had busted my butt on that project and I knew what I was talking about backwards and forwards. I had the content down. I never got clarification, but I (and other colleagues) always had the impression that he meant I presented too much like a girl. I was discussing creating emotional connections with consumers, and there was a lot of emotion in what I was speaking about and how I was speaking. Result? I was too flaky.
When I think back on that, though it upset me at the time, I realize that his reaction was more an indication that who I am and what I wanted to be and focus on wasn’t the best match for where I was at that moment. It didn’t mean that I, as a whole, am a “flake” and unworthy of being taken seriously or that I was a failure. It meant I was doing the exact right thing for me, my personality and my set of skills, but in a place that wasn’t going to embrace it as much as I needed them to. Now I’m in a place where I get to be me, all “flake,” all the time.
When you get a completely unexpected reaction, you have to ask yourself: Is this person saying I’m too much or not enough of something because they’re helping me to improve, or because they want to fundamentally change who I am because they are uncomfortable with it?
I can feel it in my gut when people have my interests in mind and when they have their own. When they really care about my success and are offering constructive feedback, it may be hard to hear that I need to change a few things but I know I’ve got to listen. I could be stubborn and decide that no one gets to have any say, or I can recognize making subtle adjustments or slightly correcting course is not changing the core of who I am but making me more accessible to others. There is no one anywhere that can’t use a little tweaking. I don’t have a problem being edited.
On the other hand, when someone declares that I’m fundamentally too much of this or not enough of that, I’m learning to fight the urge to tamp myself down or push forward into places I don’t really want to go just to please and be embraced and accepted. I’m not too much. I’m not not enough. I’m somewhere in the interesting middle.
Photo credit: © Marek – Fotolia.com