People Management

Your image vs true self: a dangerous gap you might be facing

Photo by Justin Shaifer from Pexels

She looks like a professional”. “He doesn’t look like a manager”. “Dress for success”. “Keep up appearances

All these phrases have a common issue: they rely on external perception and not on the true nature of the person subject to analysis. The bigger the gap between our true nature and the projected image (projected, not perceived!), the higher the chances of developing depression. It’s like doing splits over a pit, with one foot anchored in reality and the other in a projection. If that gap widens, you’re going to fall really deep.

Let’s say you’re at that moment in your life when you put career first, you want to impress and be promoted. Involuntarily (or not) you are going to adapt to match the desirable behaviour which gets rewarded. Most people choose their job driven by the thought “I have bills to pay, so I need a job”. They don’t really get to choose a workplace and simply take the first good enough offer they receive. Therefore, there is a good chance that desirable behaviour is not aligned with your own values.

I received an offer once, for a management position, which would’ve paid substantially better. I was supposed to work for a bank, wear a suit pretty often and I was being asked to speak in French all day. Trust me, nobody truly enjoys wearing a suit every day, in terms of comfortable outfit – people who say they do, actually enjoy the treatment they get (!) by wearing a suit. As for French, I can speak it and I enjoy doing so while on vacation, but using it for work – never again. In fact I’ve removed it completely from my resume, so that I don’t get contacted for jobs requiring French. As I’ve said, the bait was pretty tempting, a substantial increase, but the things I would’ve had to put up with, were going against any self-love and true nature of mine. It was a piece of swiss cheese lying on a mouse trap. I obviously declined and still congratulate myself over that decision.

The happy human inside you might feel connected climbing mountains in shorts or following wild animals in nature. The worker human however, goes to the office, sits in a chair 8h a day and maybe gets to wear a suit, or simply look stiff. If the happy human is that far away from the working human, the latter will not be able to steal any happiness from the first one.

The moment you are striving to build up a fake image, you’re putting up a show which will consume a lot of resources and energy, besides the financial investment you will make to live a fake life. That ranges from the clothing you’re buying to the places you’ll be hanging out and so called hobbies you’ll “adopt”.

If the projected image is highly rewarded (through status, recognition, salary increase, etc), a cognitive dissonance will form, having a tremendously disruptive effect on your personality. In extreme cases it can reach a personality cleavage. Ok, too many psychology terms: the point is you’ll feel miserable.

So what do you do? You close the gap. Remember that image of you doing splits over a pit? If you close the gap, not only you’ll feel comfortable, but you will not have to do splits anymore. If the gap is almost or fully closed, you can even stand, because you can rise.

How do you close it? You start removing bit by bit all those elements from the projected image that don’t match your true self. Make sure you include also something that’s visible to the exterior (it will boost your effort). Start with anything you want, but walk the whole road. At the end of that road, you will not find a light, but something better: a happy human!

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