“People get up, they go to work, they have their lives, but you’ll never see the headlines say, ‘Six billion people got along rather well today.’ You’ll have the headline about the 30 people who shot each other.” – John Malkovich
Are you ever unsure of what to tell people about yourself because you’re concerned about what they may think of you?
I was watching an episode of Will and Grace recently and the episode revolved around a wedding reception during which Will was afraid of revealing that he was a lawyer after hearing a tablemate share a scathing opinion about lawyers. So Will covered himself by saying he was a tennis pro.
That claim got him into even hotter water when his tablemate offered to introduce him to another guest who was also a tennis pro because, “You probably know each other.” Will spent the episode hiding from his tablemate to avoid the awkward introduction. The episode ended with his tablemate finding him and introducing him to the tennis pro.
The tennis pro pretended to know Will and Will later thanked him for helping him save face. The tennis pro then admitted to really being an IRS Agent but not wanting people to know. He said, “You tell people you’re an IRS Agent and you may as well have just announced that you killed your family.”
It’s amazing how something as simple as a few words can often cause such a strong reaction from people. It isn’t enough to introduce yourself as a lawyer, social worker, parent or to tell the world you have a learning disability etc.
Those few words are like the headline on a newspaper. A headline that compels the reader to begin telling themselves a story about you before they’ve read further – or in the case of a conversation before even asking you questions to get to know you even better.
But here’s the bigger question. When you choose certain words to introduce yourself you’re choosing the headline because of the story you hope others will tell themselves about you.
For the longest time I walked around proudly telling the world I was on the autism spectrum as I believed it aligned me with a cause. The cause was to enlighten the world about the oppression against this suffering minority. Unfortunately this mindset led to me viewing everyone who wasn’t on the spectrum as a potential oppressor.
A long period of reflection helped me discover that what I was really looking for was to be understood myself. I further realized that the headline I was putting out to the world was saying, “Hey look at me, I’m different! I’m so different in fact that you’ll never understand what it’s like to be me and it’s all your fault.” I still know people who operate that way and they wonder why it’s hard to find people to relate to.
One of my greatest lessons in this life was the realization that the story I told myself about what it means to be a man, a husband, a father, an adult withadhd etc. is what was distancing me from others. I knew I needed a new headline, one that allowed me to tell a story about the way others and I are alike. A story about all of the opportunities we have to connect and succeed together as partners.
So what’s the real story? The real story is that the headline must tell others that there’s more to you than your headline. I was once asked whether I considered myself an expert. To which I replied, “I consider myself human.”
The whole story is that I don’t know everything and I don’t want to. I want to know the things that will help me use my gifts to the utmost. In a way that will have made my journey in the world worth remembering. If I succeed, the most suitable headline to describe my efforts will be, “A life well lived.”
Then the only logical question in response to that headline would be, “Tell me the story.”
As you walk through your day I encourage you to be mindful of the way you describe yourself, others and especially the quality of your life.
Whatever you do remember that words uttered in frustration are only a headline that describe the moment, they don’t tell the whole story. There is so much more waiting for you and there is so much more within you.
If there were a headline that would describe what you believe you’re capable of in this life, what would it be? Please share it with me . . .
One more thing. Thanks for being you.
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