Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Appearing Better Than We Are

  I wrote this post months ago in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep and my mind was whirling. I've debated whether or not to post it, because as months and months have past it hasn't been as relevant to me. But here it is, because maybe someone else will find some relevancy within it.

I had a conversation with my brother in law a few months ago, and while we were talking he used a phrase about people trying to appear "appear better than they are". At the time and still, that phrase makes me think. Do I try to appear better than I really am? Do you? What do you think when you hear that phrase?
Obviously there are people that really try to appear better than they are. People that live a lifestyle way beyond their financial means, people that buy clothes wear them and return them so they can always be wearing something new and nice, narcissistic people, etc. But my brother in law wasn't talking about those kind of people, or at least I don't think he was. He was talking about good people that try to act like perfect people.
I think of myself as an honest person. I'm pretty much an open book as far as my feelings and experiences go, but I also put on a happy face during my hard days and like to at least appear that I have most of my life together even on the days it doesn't feel like it. "Appearing better than they are" stuck with me, because I believe that I fall into that category in at least some ways, and I'm interested to toss this idea out there and see if you do too.

At the root of everything for me at this point in my life if the way I was raised. I just cannot disconnect the years of training and teaching that I received in my home from my parents from who I am and how I view the world. Along those lines, my parents instilled 3 principles in their children that I think relates to this topic. I never thought of them as negative attributes, but in context of appearing better than we are, I've been made to stop and think.

First principle: Put on a happy face. My dad lived and lives this principle every day to a T. He is the most happy, optimistic person I know. He laughs through difficulty, shakes his head and smiles when he's frustrated, and is the world's eternal enthusiast. "You can do it- I have no doubt in my mind that you can do it. Things are going to work out. You're going to do great. They'll be fine. He'll figure it out. Isn't this the best. Could things get any better?" are common dad phrases. My mom also was a big advocate of the notion that no one wants to be around someone that is grumpy or complaining. Bad attitudes were generally not tolerated in our house. As a mother myself, I see great value in this. Have you ever tried hanging out with a grumpy toddler all day? I will advocate the case for the happy smiler all. day. long.
2. By example, my mother taught me that in general, we keep our problems to ourselves. Other people don't want to hear about our problems, and we're the ones that have the responsibility to deal with or fix them anyway. Enter dad saying, "You can do this. We'll get through this. Everything's going to be ok." We dealt with it, and it was ok.
3. If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. Peacefulness in relationships was an overarching theme in our home. My mom did not tolerate contention and fighting between siblings. Mom and dad never argued or fought in front of us. We all learned how to keep the peace and are still very good at biting our tongue and shrugging things off. Assume the best and don't hold a grudge.
These are all really wonderful, and important principles. As a mom I am trying to implement these concepts in our family because they are all sound skills and attitudes that will help set my children up for ultimate success in life and relationships. Sometimes, however, these ideals can be taken too far.

  For example, who of your friends and family would you describe as "real"? In my eyes, that person is someone that assuredly does not have their stuff together all the time (not that any of us really do), and they don't care to pretend they do. They can be somewhat of a mess, and they'll show you that, but they are so uniquely genuine and themselves that it is absolutely refreshing to be around them. They are not happy all the time, and they don't act like they are. Sometimes they are frazzled and a little bit crazy but they simply are themselves, all the time. Do you know someone who lives like this? Do you live like this? I can't imagine living like this! It terrifies me, and liberates me just to think of it! This is where I definitely "appear better than I am". The weight of feeling like we should or have to be happy all the time can be exhausting and really just isn't doable. We can think about the idea of wholeness here, and how a healthy person is someone that is well rounded. It's ok and expected that we experience a vast range of emotions throughout any given time. We need to cry, and we will feel anger and frustration. That's all fine. I would argue that it's even better when we can experience those feelings, and still maintain a disposition that isn't going to be destructive, frightening, or downright annoying to the people around us. Especially as a parent. Having a dad that smiled and laughed through it all may be one of the greatest sources of peace and contentment I could have been given as a child. If dad was still smiling, I felt that everything really would be ok.
This thought from the wonderful book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert feels applicable here.

I remember thinking that learning how to endure your disappointment and frustration is the part of job of a creative person. If you want to be an artist of any sort, it seemed to me, then handling your frustration is a  fundamental aspect of the work- perhaps the single most fundamental aspect of the work. Frustration is not an interruption of your process; frustration is the process. The fun part (the part where it doesn't feel like work at all) is when you're actually creating something wonderful, and everything's going great, and everyone loves it and you're flying high. But such instants are rare. You don't just get to leap from bright moment to bright moment. How you manage yourself between those bright moments, when things aren't going so great, is a measure of how devoted you are to your vocation, and how equipped you are for the weird demands of creative living. Holding yourself together through all the phases of creation is where the real work lies.

Isn't that powerful? While she is talking to artists in a creative process her words resonate with people living life just as well.

On keeping your problems to yourself- what do you think about this? Do you think that's good, bad, commendable, or not? Like my mom, I know that we are responsible to take care of ourselves and our families, and I believe that we have been skills to handle this and prayer to handle this. Obviously we often times need help and support, but if you can think of a handful of toughies you know- it  truly is amazing what one single person is able to manage when they put their head down, say a prayer, and trudge forward. I think that naturally some of us are sharers and some of us are not. I also believe that some of us are feelers and some of us are not. My mom has a sister that is both a feeler and a sharer. My mom and her sister are best friends, so naturally, over the course of her life my mom has gotten a pretty thorough run down of my aunt's life. I remember commenting to my mom once how her sister always seemed to be going through really hard things. My mom agreed that that was true, but also said that she goes through hard things too, but she chooses not tell people about it. My mom is a do it herself-er, pull up your bootstraps and get going kind of person.

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