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.