On Being a Bitch

On Being a Bitch - Brass Tack ThinkingI can be kind of a bitch.

It’s actually taken me a while to come to terms with that. Someone like my friend Erika Napoletano will probably applaud and throw baby hedgehogs at me in celebration, but in all honesty, it’s been a very uncomfortable truth for me.

This isn’t a sideways attempt at self-deprecation, either, hoping people will shower me with “oh no you aren’t” kinds of comments. I’m good with this. Being a bitch sometimes doesn’t make me a forever ill-tempered person, or an unhappy one, or even unfriendly. I love lots of people and lots of things, and I have a deep sense of professionalism that I bring with me in my work, always. It doesn’t even mean that I don’t occasionally realize that I’m wrong and need to change my outlook or behavior.

But my bitch side is really something I’m not only learning to accept, for better and for worse, but I’m learning to understand why it’s rather core to who I am and the things that I value.

One thing we laud, especially as a tireless tenet on the social web, is the idea of “being yourself”, “being authentic”, being real and who you are, warts and all. But the truth? Most people don’t really want that.

What they want is their version of your authentic self, the you that they hope and want and wish you to be in whatever way satisfies their curiosities, their needs, their idolatry or their admiration or their respect. What we want is to have the people around us reflect and reinforce the things we like about ourselves, the things we want and believe them to be, and not so much the things that we don’t.

So on the one hand, we want to know that we’re getting the genuine article. On the other, we want the “real you” to be something that is acceptable to us, to the expectations we’ve created in our minds for what makes a good person, friend, associate, client, colleague, company. Full of lovely traits and devoid of undesirables (or at least keeping those where we don’t have to see or deal with them much).

But we can’t have it both ways.

My bitchy tendencies have downsides. I can offend people, sometimes unintentionally. My strong opinions and occasional inability to restrain my feelings means that if I’m working for and with someone, I can reflect on them (I only hope the positives over time outweigh the liabilities of being associated with a hot-head). I’m not particularly warm and cuddly, which means that as social as I am and can be at times, I can also be profoundly anti-social and not very good at hiding my disdain for someone if they treat me poorly, and it can take me a while to warm up to new people and new situations.

But those tendencies also have upsides. I’m growing more protective of my time and space and the trust I give out. Not in an “I’m so much more damned important than someone else” kind of way (because I truly hate that kind of self-importance, we’re all busy and in demand in our own worlds), but because I have finally realized that time is the one thing I can’t make more of. So I want to spend it on and with the things and people that fulfill me, that enrich my life and work, that make me happy. In whatever context *I* decide, based on decisions and choices I’m willing to make for myself, not the context or priorities that other people determine for me.

I’ve wasted a lot of energy on things and people that I can’t get back. And while I don’t carry around a ton of regrets, I’d like to not repeat mistakes if I can avoid it. So if being more protective of my personal space and confidences makes me a bitch — and to many people, it does — I’m making peace with that for the first time, and meaning it.

But it also gives me tremendous freedom to let loose the side of me that is deeply loyal, fiercely trusting and loving, open and happy and eager to share my life and world with other people. It gives me tremendous freedom to spend professional time on the projects and activities that I believe in, that I’m passionate about, that excite me and drive me to be better and do more. Because now I have room for them in the way that they deserve. It gives me a sense of self-preservation that I’ve been lacking, and suffering for. I can’t be everything to everyone. But I can be amazing things to a few incredible people, and that is what matters.

All this to say: You have to choose two things.

One, you have to choose the you you’re really going to give to the world, and accept the good, bad, and ugly that comes with it. That’s you as a person, as a business, as a professional, as a friend. For me, it’s making peace with The Bitch. For you, it might be coming to terms with the intellectual or the goofball or the malcontent. There will be amazing challenges that come with living your values out loud, and amazing rewards. Both are real. And if you do it for the right reasons, they’re both worth it.

Two, you have to choose what you’re really asking of others. If you want to be accepted for your honest self and have permission to be that without apology, you’ve got to cope with the reality that others’ honest selves might not be what you want them to be. So you’ve got to adjust your perspective and expectations, or be willing to let go and move on. You can’t change the nature of others. Only they can choose to do that, and for their own reasons.

I’m pretty convinced that you can’t teach someone to be genuine or sincere, because that trait is all rooted in intent (and I happen to believe that having good intentions is more nature than nurture, but that’s a debate for another day). People either want you to see who they really are, or they don’t. The intent is either to show you, honestly, and allow you to decide whether or not they’re someone you want to be around or associated with. Or the intent is to craft a character that reflects certain behaviors and values, and de-emphasizes (or even willfully conceals) others in order to shape a specific perception that may or may not be fully accurate in hopes that you’re creating something that other people will be more likely to want and accept.

To an extent, we all do the latter. Our personal filters are all about letting the world see what we want them to see, and making sure that the other stuff stays off the radar lest it let on that we’re vulnerable, or sensitive, or ditzy, or dark humored.

But life is too short not to have a point of view, and it’s really exhausting to continually gloss over our more human, fallible elements in order to create some kind of magazine-glossy image that we can’t possibly maintain for the long term. We all need to find reasons to not just accept but make the most of who and what we are. Because it’s what we’ve got to work with.

There are clients and professionals that likely won’t work with me because I have a strong personality and opinions. I’ll blow networking opportunities because I won’t be in the mood to schmooze a room of people I really don’t like. I’ll get in trouble online because I’ll post one of my infamous strings of three or four ranty tweets about something I care about or that excited me or pissed me off. Yet another person will come up to me at an event and tell me how ferocious I am or how opinionated I am or how off-putting I can be when I say the word “jackass” in a speech.

And I’ll smile. And I’ll shake their hand.

And I’ll say thanks. I’m sometimes kind of a bitch. Thanks for noticing.

  • GermanVillageMom

    Hear! Hear!

  • Melissa Koski

    Wow. Totally get this.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thanks, Melissa. We gotta stick together. :)

  • http://twitter.com/profkrg Kenna Griffin

    Amber,
    Do you think age has anything to do with coming to terms with your “true” self? It seems that the more I mature, the more I’m like “This is just me. It’s who I am.” I’ve heard that you get more comfortable “in your skin” as you get older. I certainly see this idea reflected in my own life. Thoughts?
    Interesting read, as always! Yours is one of the blogs I always enjoy reading.
    Kenna

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Kenna,

      In part, absolutely. I think as I’ve gotten older, become a mom, started a couple of businesses successfully…I realize that there are some things that are just part and parcel to who I am, for better or worse.

      I admit that in the last few years, I’ve struggled mightily with the parts I don’t like so much. I’ve tried hiding them, pretending otherwise, being things and behaving in ways that I thought would be “better”, only to find out that I was miserable and attracted ALL the wrong people. So. It might seem obvious to a lot of people, but it’s been a big deal for me to embrace the stuff that’s not-so-flattering about myself and learn that it’s just part of the fabric that makes me ME.

      Thanks for reading, and for commenting.

  • http://twitter.com/tiffanyannweber Tiffany Weber

    LOL – we were just talking about me being the complete opposite of this at lunch. I’m a complete push over, always smiley happy, and it’s not a good thing!

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      We all have our “things” that aren’t necessarily our friends. I’m also sure that being a happy and positive person has lots of *upside*, too. It’s always a balance. What I struggle with is the awareness of those things and the acceptance. It’s probably a lifelong journey. :)

  • http://twitter.com/patmrhoads Pat Rhoads

    I loved this post, because as you stated, it showed a little about who you really are, which shows your authenticity. The thing is, I think a LOT of us are the same way, but many of us are too afraid to be honest with ourselves and others. We need people like you to be an example of being authentic, even if sometimes it just doesn’t fit with what other people think we should be like.

    Besides, the blog topic gave me a priceless tweet to share with my followers to link to this post. :)

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Being honest with yourself is hard. Very hard. I suck at it, often. It’s much easier to convince ourselves of the things we wish to be true and live in a filtered little bubble.

      “Authentic” is one of those words that has been so badly bludgeoned, but you got it right. Authentic is about the *reality* of things. You can be an authentic, bona fide asshole. The problem is that when who and what you are doesn’t jibe with the world around you, or even your own ideas about who you want to be.

      And I liked your tweet. I’m sure it made someone click. :)

  • http://www.Productivelifeconcepts.com/ Royale Scuderi

    Love this! I’ve always been kind of a bitch. I’ve accepted it. I can be blunt and sometimes too forthright, but you always know where you stand and it helps me to stand up for myself and hold firm to my principles. My husband laughs about it now.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      The people that know and love me best know what I mean about this. It’s not that I’m mean or have ill intent. It’s that sometimes, as a dear friend put it, that my “passions can be misdirected”. I’ll take that. :)

  • http://twitter.com/NataliesStuff Natalie LeBlanc

    *slow clap*. I have this quote on my wall:
    “Accept everything about yourself, I mean everything. You are you and that is the beginning and the end. No apologies, no regrets.”
    Which I think sort of captures the essence of your post here. Brilliant Amber!

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      The acceptance is the hardest part. And too many people think that accepting who you are means that you aren’t willing to acknowledge when that nature can be hurtful or harmful to others. I think that’s the important and subtle balance that we all need to strike. Thanks for reading, Natalie.

  • http://twitter.com/EleanorPie Eleanor Pierce

    Love this – totally identify with this post. I actually thought you were describing me in a couple of places. And I even wrote something yesterday about how irritated I am with people who think that they have cornered the market on being busy/in-demand, etc. “I roll my eyes at my childless friends who say they’re busy.” Blerg. It makes my eyeball twitch.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Our lives are all relative and we’re a judgmental lot (and yes of course I realize the hypocrisy in judging people for being judgmental. Round and round we go…)

      As for being busy, I don’t know a single person that doesn’t wish they had more hours, fewer demands and more strength to control their own schedules. We’re ALL “busy” because we make the choices that fill our lives. It’s just not something that makes you any more important than the next person, which is where many of us get it wrong.

  • http://www.misadventureswithandi.com Andi Fisher

    I feel like you possessed my body and wrote this post from my own hand – granted you are a far better writer than I am but every single thing said, every last word could have come from my heart and it is sort of giving me goosebumps. I had that epiphany about a year ago and coming to terms with it, no rather embracing it has made me even happier than I already was, it was sort of the last piece I was missing to complete the picture of myself and it is something that I think you only become aware of with age. Thank you for expressing all this so beautifully!

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thanks, Andi. Those epiphanies are great, aren’t they? Arresting at times, but really good things. It’s funny how facing down the not-so-flattering stuff can actually make you *happier*. I’m right there with you. I just wish it hadn’t taken me so long to start figuring it out. Better late than never?

      • http://www.misadventureswithandi.com Andi Fisher

        Absolutely, just like everything in life, we are our own process, picking up bits of data, experimenting, etc trying to get it right!

  • http://coachlisab.blogspot.com/ Lisa Braithwaite

    I’ve made peace with the goofball and the bitch, and it makes me a better person and a better coach. I can’t ask my clients to embrace who they are without demonstrating it myself.

    I laughed at your comment about saying “jackass” in a speech. I once said, “pissed off,” “hardass,” and a couple of other similar things in a presentation, and got an e-mail complaint from one of the audience members. She wanted to keep it between us, but I went ahead and sent it to the president of the organization who had hired me and who had attended. We agreed that my language was appropriate and that the audience member’s opinion was isolated. It shook me briefly, but I’m over it now.

    I recently wrote an e-book called “Panic Sucks,” and got a complaint about that, too. Life is too short, people.

  • http://uptownuncorked.com geechee_girl

    Word. From one to another, high five on this post.

  • http://twitter.com/SusanGiurleo Susan Giurleo

    Does having opinions, boundaries and a voice make you a bitch, or just a woman who is open with her options, sets boundaries and uses her voice? Often women who empower themselves to be seen and heard (and not live small and meek) are labeled as “bitches.” But I don’t think we need to put a negative term on a positive way of being in the world. For goodness sake, speak up, stand up and be you! No need to beat the critics to the conclusion this is bitchy. I want all girls to learn to be more like you (and me and all the other women who bring their true selves to the world) and not apologize or feel like they are socially unacceptable. Here’s to being empowered and true, not to being a bitch.

  • http://www.facebook.com/vicfbiz Victor Felix

    Very awesome view on life you are very special

  • http://www.facebook.com/josee.breton.5 Josée Breton

    Modern feminism has turned the word bitch into something very positive. The modern woman is free to express herself which wasn’t the case back in the day. An assertive wife was undesirable in a society dominated by controlling men who did not want to lose their privileged position and used words like these too silence any woman they felt “threatened” by. I’m proud to say that I can be a bitch at times! God gave us that bitch switch for a reason ladies, just don’t abuse it :P
    (I’m not referring to the mean bitch type)