What do we do when our felt experience doesn’t line up with the experience that others have of us? How do we discern what is important, and what is simply a habit or pattern that keeps us framed in a specific way of being in the world? Let me get a bit more concrete. I recently had an experience working with a colleague where my personal experience was one of near panic, feeling off kilter, an inability to connect to the moment, fear around not doing the next thing right, etc. (getting the point? If not, I could go on. And on. And on.). On our way out of this bit of work, my colleague asked how I thought it went. I said I thought the result was good, but that I’m not liking the way I’m showing up in these things. She asked why, and I told her what I just told you.

Weird,” she said. I didn’t feel you there at all. I thought you did great work. You really added a lot of value.”

It’d be easy to blow off her comments as simply trying to make me feel better, but I know her well enough to know that she wouldn’t do that. She was telling me what was true for her. Which means that there is a gap — and a rather significant one, it seems — between my experience and hers. What am I to do with that?

In my mind, this is pointing to something rather subtle that’s happening within me, and I wonder how frequently this happens around us within others as well. As a part of holding on to a particular identity, our perception twists our view of ourselves into something we belive to be true about ourselves. It’s kind of an identity dysmorphia1. This perception can hold us in a pattern of belief that keeps us from taking the steps we might take otherwise. I think it is related to a difficulty in grounding into a self. It’s when we have a hard time finding ground under our feet, on which to feel a solid identity that we’ve built. Outside reflection is important in this in order to feel our way towards that identity, and toward that ground.

This is a gradual process that’s probably not very linear. It will be a journey. I’m very clearly on this journey myself. Indeed, I’m still looking at this discernment, as I try to fully understand what is really the best place for me to put my enegy in career, and life in general. Good friends and colleagues can help us here. Indeed, we need them.

  1. A quick search on this term — identity dysmorphia — brings up a number of links pointing to articles talking about Gender Dysmorphia, which is a very different thing than what I’m talking about. Just wanting to name that.

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