One of the truly surreal aspects of my life is that people send/give me gifts. Even typing it sounds weird. You need to know how much I appreciate if/when it happens because I see the thoughtfulness behind them. You see, most of these objects reflect my quirks and personality traits I openly share through interactions online and during presentations. I never take any of these meaningful actions for granted.
Recently, when I had the chance to speak at HR Tampa, my dear friend Carol gave me something and said, “I got this to add to your collection.” There is nothing more heartwarming than that sentiment. For some context, when I travel to give presentations, I take my office. I have a table set up next to me filled with various and sundry objects. You’ll find llamas, lava lamps, Magic 8 Balls, a KISS Pez dispenser set, and more oddities. I refer to this assemblage of items during my talks. People love toys. We loved them as kids. We couldn’t get enough of them. As adults, we lose sight of the joy of play in work and in life so these are a constant reminder to keep that joy alive !!
Back to Carol’s gift . . .
She got me a wonderful “On Air” sign like you’d see at TV or radio stations. It lights up and I love it !! I reference it when I have a chance to be on a podcast, prepare for an upcoming presentation or whenever I sit down to write. I wasn’t sure where I could find a good place for it. I would love to have it travel with me and turn it on at a conference, but I’m afraid it would get damaged. I looked around my house and found the perfect place for it in my basement. It’s the one room my wife has deemed “okay” for me to fill with my countless “treasures.”
As I looked at the glowing sign, I was reminded that too often as people we feel we always have to be “on” when it comes to interacting with others. Very few people are comfortable enough to put themselves forward without a bit of hesitation when meeting others. There may be a good reason for this because of how people see themselves or how others have treated them in the past.
Being “on” is tiring though, isn’t it? Having the feeling that you can’t be yourself when you’re surrounded by other people has to be exhausting. How do you keep up the image and face you want others to see? Do you feel it’s truly protecting your self-esteem to do this? Isn’t this constant feeling of being on a stage actually keeping others at arm’s length when it may be safe to have them get to know the real you?
I am an uber extrovert. Always have been. When I get into a situation where others are present, I get excited !! I want to meet each and every person and get to know them. I’m interested in hearing their stories about who they are, what they do and how they view life. I realize this is not how most people view meeting or interacting with others. I also know I can be a bit overwhelming if I just jump into a situation with extensive amounts of energy. People have made the assumption that I’m just acting that way to be “on.”
That’s not the case at all, but I can see how you can construe this. People also assume that since I express such extroversion I have no downtime. I can understand that misconception because all of us base our pictures of others on snapshots. When you evaluate how much time you actually spend with others, it doesn’t add up to much time at all. However, we can create full-blown images of how people must act ALL. THE. TIME. from these short encounters.
I would like to suggest we step back a bit and try not to project such a complete judgment of others. It’s rarely on-point and puts people in a box. Since most people do feel the pressure to be “on,” we may not get an accurate take on them as wonderful humans. This is such a miss in our company’s culture and the workplace as a whole. Instead of having people feel they need to be on or that we construct a box for them to neatly fit in, why don’t we look at things differently?
Wouldn’t it be perfect if when two people came together, they turned on their “On Air” light to show how talented, engaged and amazing they are? There would be no other expectation. People would feel safe to turn on their lights because YOU turned yours on first to show genuine interest in them for who they are. No pretense. No gamesmanship. Just a welcoming light to let them know you couldn’t wait to hear from them.
I love Carol’s gift. It’s a solid reminder. We can unlock the light of others when we choose to turn ours on and focus on them. When it’s time to rest, recharge and contemplate, we can turn off the light for a moment. It’s good for our well-being to not always be “on.”
This week shift and realize that it’s better to be yourself – quirks and all. When it’s time to turn your “On Air” light on, do it to intentionally engage with others. You’ll start to see you’ve always been surrounded by amazing people, and they’ll see you as well.