I believe that every person is actually two people:
The person you really are (deep down, on the inside, where you think no one can see).
And the person you think you should be in order to be liked, loved, and accepted.
Glennon Doyle Melton (who wrote one of my favorite books of 2016, and maybe my favorite memoir ever, Love Warrior) calls that second person the representative.
Your representative is a version of you that’s sent into the world in your place. It’s a blander, less authentic person who stands in for you when it doesn’t feel safe to expose the real you.
Your representative is the one who …
- Plasters on a fake smile when you’d rather be anywhere else than the meeting you’re sitting in.
- Doesn’t speak up, even when you’ve got an opinion, for fear of being judged.
- Knows exactly what to say to keep being liked and praised.
- Keeps you jumping through hoops, constantly trying to prove your worth.
- Has a bunch of acquaintances, but very few real connections.
Most of us have been sending out representatives for so long that we can’t remember not having one. They spring to life for almost all of us at a very early age.
And every time a representative is born, it always emanates from the same deep fear:
Who you really are is not good enough.
As in, if you tell people what’s really on your mind, they’ll dislike you. Or if you share the real you, everyone will think you’re boring. Or maybe, if you don’t keep pretending to like this job, then you’ll get fired.
So instead of being rejected, hurt, or ignored, we send out someone who’s bound to be liked, loved, and accepted.
Except … sending out your representative doesn’t feel better, does it? You’ve probably realized by now that it actually hurts more to keep pretending.
MY REPRESENTATIVE WAS A REALLY GOOD LIAR
I learned from a pretty early age that not everyone was going to be a fan of my personality.
I’m one of those people who’s often been called too much.
When you’re too much, you learn that there are certain limits you’re not supposed to exceed. Don’t be too loud. Don’t share your opinions so freely. Don’t ask people such blunt questions.
Being universally liked meant quieting myself. Being milder. Toning down the intensity.
Thankfully, I never really cared about being universally liked. I had a handful of close friends and family who liked me just the way I was, and that was enough for me.
But that all changed when I graduated college.
Suddenly, I was an adult. I knew next to nothing about the real world, but I had a lot of common sense. And my common sense informed me that I likely would never get a job if I told the truth.
So I got good at pretending and telling interviewers and prospective employers exactly what they wanted to hear:
Yes, I’m very interested in marketing. Sure, I’d love to work late! Yeah, I could totally be passionate about planning seminars. I’m such a great self-starter. My biggest flaw is my perfectionism.
My representative was the one who got hired. And I — the real me — was the one who suffered because of it.
I WAS TALKING TO A CLIENT ABOUT THIS THE OTHER DAY
My client, Kara, had reached a breaking point.
She hated her job, but no one on her team had any clue she was miserable. She was so afraid of letting anyone see the truth that she was expending mountains of energy trying to keep up appearances.
The distance between how she really felt (miserable, lethargic, totally burnt out) and the role her representative had to keep playing (energized, motivated, a real team player) had become so wide that she felt incapable of stretching herself across it anymore without tearing apart.
She wasn’t surprised that she’d gotten to this point. Like me, she’d sent her representative on the job interview a couple years back, and that’s the person who got hired.
We were talking about how to avoid this happening all over again at her next job when she said:
“I’m so afraid of being vulnerable. What if people don’t like me? What if they think I’m weird or boring? What if I speak up and everyone hates my idea? Or what if I speak up and I’m completely ignored? What if I piss people off and become totally isolated?”
It’s no wonder we send out representatives, is it? The fear we have runs deep. It’s instinctual.
Humans are wired for connection. We can’t survive in isolation. We may not be tribes of cavemen anymore, hunting and gathering to sustain ourselves, but our brains are still wired that way.
The deepest, most instinctual part of our programming tells us that isolation equals death. If the tribe ostracizes you, you’re going to starve to death or get eaten by a wild animal.
So to prevent that from happening, we’ve got to make sure the tribe wants us.
When you think of it that way, Kara’s fear of being rejected is totally normal. It makes sense why it feels way safer to send out the representative, instead of risk being shunned.
BUT WE AREN’T CAVEPEOPLE ANYMORE
I told Kara that it’s ironic how much we think we need the representative in order to be liked, loved, and accepted, when in reality, it’s having a representative that blocks us from receiving any of that for real.
When your representative receives love, admiration, or praise, it’s not you that’s receiving it. It’s the person you’re pretending to be.
Which means the real you is still starved for acceptance.
And when you try to make friends or connections while wearing the mask of the representative, you’re quite literally blocking yourself from ever having a real friend.
Which means you go through life feeling isolated and rejected anyway — even though that was the one thing you were trying to avoid — because no one actually knows or accepts the real you.
It’s a lonely, heartbreaking existence. And it’s not worth whatever “safety” we think we’re getting from it.
YOU’VE GOT TO PLAN ON BEING REJECTED
Here’s the scariest part about letting go of the representative:
You are absolutely, positively guaranteed to be rejected for being yourself.
There will always, always, always be people who don’t like you. People who disagree with you. People who don’t share your opinions. People who don’t understand you and don’t want to try.
And yes, it will sting when you show up as yourself and you’re not seen, heard, or appreciated.
BUT … the reward is that there will also be many people who like, love, and accept you for exactly who you are. You’ll make actual, deep connections with other human beings when you have the courage to relate to them as you are.
You’ll feel known. Appreciated. Understood. Acknowledged. Validated. Loved.
And that will more than make up for the people who reject you.
By the way, Kara just got a new job. She interviewed throughout the entire process as herself. No representative in sight.
Her future boss sent her an effusive, warm welcome message saying how excited they all were to have Kara on the team. When she showed up for her first day of work, she said she felt more loved and appreciated and understood in one day than she had the entire two years she worked for her former company.
She said that she doesn’t care so much anymore what people think. She doesn’t need everyone to accept her because she now has a solid group of people who know and like her for who she is. And that’s more than enough.
So now, I really want to hear from you. How have you been sending your representative into the world? And are you willing to stop pretending? Let me know, in the comments.
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