Sunday, June 6, 2010

Seeing Through Different Eyes

A few weeks ago, I gave up something pretty significant. I gave up my hair. Not all of it, but more than I have had shorn off all at once in about a decade. People have often told me that my hair is my most distinctive physical feature. For many years, it was fairly long. Actually, since I haven't updated my profile picture yet, you can still see what it looked like. It was definitely a radical change.

My hair said many things about me. I believed it communicated my creativity, my willingness to be an individual, perhaps even a conscious non-conformist attitude. Other people may see things I don't necessarily want to convey, though. First impressions being what they are, long hair may signify to someone that I am unreliable, a slacker, a trouble-maker, or any number of other judgments. Those things aren't true of me, and for a long time my decision was that I didn't care what other people thought.

When I look at my goals, however, other people's perceptions actually do matter to me. Much of what I am creating now is built upon partnerships of some kind, and partnership involves being mindful of how another person thinks and feels. Healthy partnership requires that I be the kind of person with whom other people want to partner. And I am in many ways. But people don't always get complete view of someone's strengths if they stop at their first impression.

Last year, someone I trusted told me that I wasn't going to have an easy time being heard by a group of decision-makers because my hair isn't white enough. I knew that what he meant was that whatever I had to say was going to be filtered through other people's opinions of what it takes to be wise, strategic, insightful, or even valuable. For some people, I am simply not old enough for what I say to have value. I can't do anything about that except be aware of it. But, I also realize that for some people, my long hair was an obstacle between their assumptions and my actual strengths. I want to build partnerships in which my strengths benefit and inspire others in what they are creating, so it's important for me to allow my strengths to be most clearly seen.

In the end, I am already used to a new hairstyle. I haven't noticed any radical changes in the way others treat me, and maybe I won't. What I have noticed is greater willingness on my part to be seen and greater intention behind bringing my strengths forward. I can't control how other people will see me or engage with me. At the same time, I can give others the best chance to see me clearly, and I believe that serves both them and me.

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