No, Perception is not Everything
I had a manager tell me during a review once that "perception is everything". I was an Administrative Assistant for a large company, and in my position I "represented the company" and therefore needed to "look happier". Customers RARELY saw me -- the image the manager was going for from me was purely for the benefit of other employees in my building. I was really disturbed by this remark, Perception Is Everything. I thought, "No! It is not! Who cares if I don't go around with a big smile on my face all day? I'm doing my job and am doing it very well. I'm obviously focused and... do you even care if I'm happy, or do you just want me to appear to be happy!?"
I really was great at my job -- I always got either perfect or almost perfect marks on each review. (And whenever I was in front of customers I was a delight.) I also must add that while there was a lot left desired from the company, I did not by any means go around sulking. I had many friends at work and actually enjoyed myself (usually). I was not unhappy, that is to say, in a way that would have affected my demeanor.
I was completely offended that someone would actually tell me to appear to be someone that I am not. I hear that I look like I'm mad, or sad, all - of - the - time. It's quite frustrating. I've heard it all of my adult life, thus far. My face just does this natural blank stare thing, and my eyes are kind of big naturally. I also suffer from severe eye allergies. So sometimes my big, blank stare -- or my pained squint -- tends to look a little... annoyed? Worried? Sad? I don't even know what it looks like! Because most of the time I'm perfectly content!
Perception is only Somewhat Accurate
Up until about 10 minutes ago I held fast to my belief that Perception Isn't Everything, mostly because I am not a faker. Now I am a little on the fence about it all. I mean, of course you shouldn't try to be or try to appear to be someone or something you're not. But I think it's helpful to be aware of how people are perceiving you!
I took a survey -- a Spiritual Gifts survey (you can take the same survey here) -- and wasn't really shocked with my results, for the most part. This wasn't your typical BuzzFeed quiz or women's magazine personality test. This was a well thought-out, Scripture-based analysis, and the results were fairly accurate (at times more accurate than I'd care to admit). My analysis results said that my dominant spiritual gifts are Administration and Showing Mercy. Naturally, I agreed with certain points in the details of each result, and disagreed with others.
There was one key trait that I couldn't have agreed any less with though: "You find it easy to express yourself and are outgoing..." SO not me. I have a really hard time sharing my feelings. I feel very deeply and am an emotional person, but to express my feelings is something I find very difficult to do out loud, which based on context, is what the analysis was implying. (This is why I use music and other creative processes as an outlet to express myself.) And I am SO FAR from outgoing -- I actually laughed out loud when I read that.
People presume to know a lot about people. Even my close friends only presume to know all about me. That sounds bad. Sorry. I'm not trying to put anyone down, and I'm not upset about it or anything, I just believe it's true! I mean, everyone fits into some sort of stereotype. And people, unknowingly or not, tend to think they've got a person "pegged" based on some categorized assumptions. I do it too, until I catch myself and repent! Besides God of course, who is the only One who truly, truly knows me -- He knew all about me before I was conceived! -- I can count on one hand the people that actually know Tawni. They are my husband and the immediate family I grew up in.
I fit into a stereotype, based on my love for fashion and my evidently naturally crabby expressions. I may be thought of as materialistic because I appreciate jewelry. I may be thought of as shallow because I have a slight obsession with nail polish. I love fashion! It makes me happy! I also love classic literature though, music, scary movies, singing, ice cream, following airplanes with my eyes until they fly too far away to see, and, I love Scotch tape. Loving all of these things though, does this mean I love Jesus less? Do I place higher value on "things" than on my Savior? Absolutely NOT.
Can I just for a quick second talk about my Instagram feed and how I'm slowly, very slowly, beginning to not worry about people judging me for what I take pictures of? If I posted a selfie, it's not because I'm showing you how beautiful I think I am (trust me). I was probably in a very happy mood, or silly mood, and just wanted to express myself. If I posted about jewelry or nail polish or my clothes, it's because they make me happy and who doesn't like sharing with the world what makes them happy? Do I post too many pictures of my son? He is one of the true loves of my life. My Instagram feed is my photo journal. Living overseas, you have to get creative in how you share your day-to-day lives with the people that are close to you that live "over there". Instagram is my fix. I won't apologize for it anymore.
So. "You find it easy to express yourself and are outgoing..." These ten little words that were so inaccurate are what changed my mind about perception.
Perception isn't Everything, but it Does Matter
What I've come to realize, is that as a representative of Christ, I should care -- to an extent -- what others see in me. I should care a bit about how I am perceived. Am I shining with God's love, even when I'm not smiling? Even through my #ootd (just had to slip that outfit of the day hashtag in there, sorry), are people aware of how much pure love and passion I have inside of me? Is it all my fault if they aren't aware? I don't know. What if someone just can't see past the stereotype, or doesn't care to see past it? Maybe they're more comfortable putting me in a nicely labeled box. God gave me the appreciation I have for the things I consider beautiful, and he knows what makes me happy. God loves it when I'm happy!
I've been so self-conscious all of my adult life, afraid to be my true self. Afraid to share all of myself with people, and recently, ashamed of not meeting this standard that Man has set for me as a missionary and a ministry wife. Now my mindset has been changed. How will that change the rest of me? I don't have an answer. This will be a slow transformation -- learning to let go of what others think about me, but being honestly aware that it does matter a little, because of the One I'm representing -- finding that healthy, holy balance, is going to be hard. Any suggestions?