Being “Yourself”

I’ve had an idea rolling around in my head for weeks now, probably longer – but every time I try to write about it, I get hung up.  Sometimes when I get like this it’s because I feel like the topic is particularly important, or interesting, and whatever I write isn’t quite good enough – I’m not doing the topic, the idea, justice.  That’s lame.  It’s an excuse to never write anything, to never get anywhere on the topic.  I’d rather just write what comes, and at another time, write about it again.  So here we are.

There isn’t a Jordi in the mountains, and  a Jordi outside of the mountains.  I’m just one, you can’t divide me into two.

This comes from “Unbound”, which I posted about a couple weeks ago.  Direct link to the quote here.  In context, he’s referring to the fact that he feels part of the mountains – that he just is who he is, honestly, no matter where he is.

Earlier this week, I was at a conference with some coworkers.  I like these people – I enjoy hanging out with them, they’re smart, caring, friendly – a good bunch all around.  I look forward to seeing them.  The conference was a few days long, and generally had 4 tracks running at a time – so we all went to whatever session most interested us.  Sometimes I found myself in a session with two or three others, sometimes there was no one else in the room that I knew.

I went to one session – more of a forum, or small group discussion than a lecture, and introduced myself to a few of the people at my table – all strangers, doing similar work to me.  I thought about the kinds of topics I could add value or speak intelligently on.  Just before the session started, one of my coworkers coincidentally walked in and sat at a table near me.

Upon noticing, my feelings about the session – about talking, sharing, etc, changed.  Not for the worse, necessarily, but there was a difference.  The suddenness of the change struck me – it was distinct, and obvious.  Why?

When the room was full of people I didn’t know, I was free to say whatever, and behave however came naturally to me, without much concern beyond whether I was adding value to the conversation, or getting what I wanted to get out of it. In this sense, in spite of the fact that the room was full of people, I was alone.  It was a room full of strangers, who I hadn’t seen before, and wouldn’t likely see again.

As soon as someone I knew arrived, things changed: now I had to be myself.  “Myself”. A persona consistent and cohesive with who I am the rest of the time – or who I think that person expects me to be, based on our past interactions. And that’s work.  I don’t think this version of “myself” is really measurably different than the person I am when I’m alone, but there’s some part deep down inside that feels particularly concerned with making sure I’m on brand all the time.

My brother recently commented about how great airports are.  They’re absolutely full of people, but none of the people know who you are, or particularly care.  They’re all busy with their own lives, and you’re completely anonymous.  You’ve never seen any of them before, and you’ll never see any of them again.  You are no one, or you’re whoever you want to be.

I think this might be part of the reason why introverts enjoy being alone, or why it feels so draining for introverts to spend too much of their day with other people.  Alone is easy, quiet, relaxing.  It requires no thought, no effort.  It’s honest.  Conversely,  it’s work to maintain a persona, even if the persona is exactly who you are when alone.  The constant awareness, the subtle effort underlying all your choices – your words, your mannerisms, your reactions.

Back to Jordi (who apparently is now my spirit animal): I’d like to be able to turn that background process – the one making sure you are who everyone expects you to be – off.  After all: there is only one Jordi.

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