What is the worst possible insult you can imagine someone telling you? Would it be being called dumb, aggressive or ugly? What “colourful” adjectives come to mind when imagining a word that would make you cringe? I got one adjective thrown my way recently that made me jump on my toes. One that I never expected would get to me. I got called…bland. No, correction. I didn’t even get called bland, the only think that was said that I risk being bland if I don’t exprees my personality and opinions more. Just the mere possibility of ever becoming bland gave me the heebie jeebies.
What does being bland imply?
lacking strong features or characteristics and therefore uninteresting.
unseasoned, mild-tasting, or insipid.
showing no strong emotion.
Brrrrr. Just think about it. Becoming tasteless and lacking of expression. I can deal with being called aggressive – it might mean I was expressing an opinion that someone disagreed with. Being called annoying…fine, at least I pushed some of your buttons. Stubborn? Meh…another side of assertive and proactive. But bland, on the other hand, implies that there is no personality for people to assess and engage with. I become invisible. Now hold on, I know some of you will think “why would you need someone to assess you? Shouldn’t we be trying to be unattached to the opinion of others?”. Yes…and no. The reality is that we assess each other all the time. It’s not a construct of modern times or of capitalism. It’s inherent human behaviour. Consciously or not, we make internal judgements about people in every single moment, picking up on the small cues of their body language, voice, actions and demeanour in order to quickly come to a conclusion whether or not this person can be trusted, are they interesting for me and should we engage with them.
Is being compliant and safe unethical?
This is not to say that people’s opinions should be the guiding light of every single one of our decisions in life. Unattachment is good, it keeps us sane and clear. But, fuelled by some recent conversations with my teacher at the Embodied Facilitator Course, I could argue that NOT caring about whether people notice you or not is in some cases UNETHICAL. Think about it: imagine you have an idea for a wonderful service/product that could greatly improve the life and well-being of many, many people. Possibly taking away the incessant anxiety and stress we struggle with on a daily basis. However, your policy in life it to keep a low profile, not rock any boats, always agree with others and just generally try not to elbow your way to people’s attention. In the professional sense, that could translate into you not speaking up and asking for meetings with future collaborators, not taking chances with selling your brand (hence exposing yourself to rejection on the market) and not fighting off people that might potentially exploit you. By keeping yourself quiet, peaceful and safe – you highly risk not getting your product/service on the market, indirectly keeping people away from something that could better their lives because you are too afraid to fully express yourself. Is “unethical” too strong of a word? Maybe. But I still stand by it.
Don’t be everybody’s darling
Engaging with people, in any way that you can imagine, is essentially marketing. Whether you are selling an actual brand, wanting to be heard in meetings at your office, trying to make new friends in a new town or looking to hook up on Tinder – we are always trying to get “air time” for our opinions, thoughts and trying to be truly seen by those whose attention we need in the moment. The risk of this is thinking that our “marketing” needs to be for everybody and that the whole world is our customer, so to speak. Meaning – I need to please everyone with how I look, talk, think or am so that I can cover the biggest possible number of people that can actually be interested in me. Wrong. The more you water down your personality to please a maximum number of people, the further away you push your true niche (of people and experiences that are made for you).
Where’s the hole through which personality escapes?
This got me thinking about how I personally got to the point of being on the verge of blandness. What were by habits and behaviours that I was nurturing that slowly made my personality fade? One thought that I kept coming back to was that one of my best features – the ability to empathise with others – was being taken to the extreme and working against me. I pride myself with being able to often step out of my own experience in order to listen to others, hear their point of view and make them feel special. That’s one of the building blocks of why I went into teaching and coaching – if I can’t step into the space and shoes of others, I didn’t see the point of guiding them at all. This ability brought with it a form of shapeshifting in order to make room for the expression of another person, but what I didn’t notice was that I was slowly starting to shapeshift not only in limited situations, but was becoming increasingly accommodating to others in my personal life as well. Letting them expand, while I took up less and less space.
I spoke up less. I let things slide. I didn’t insist always on my own needs for the sake of peace and harmony. I tried not to stand out with my wishes and opinions because I labelled them as less important or uninteresting compared to those around me. I was playing the nurturer at times, shrinking my own space and needs, when instead I should have been standing up for myself. Essentially, I watered myself down. Nobody else did that for me – I let it happen. There was nobody directly benefiting from this or plotting it. On the contrary, I wasn’t doing ANYONE any favours by keeping myself back.
And now what?
Well, step 1 is already done, right? I became aware of it. So all I have to do it build, one day at a time, a new habit. I will start noticing when I recoil and pull back from expression. If I listen closely enough, my body tells me when this is happening – it closes my shoulders, tightens my lips and makes my vision more narrow. I will encourage myself to speak up even at the cost of…well, any cost for that matter. Even if my first instinct is to shut up and keep my head low. I will involve my partner, close friends and family in my wish to change so that they can “flag” for me all the times they notice me retreating to my old ways. As hard as it is to include others in my own self-development, they will help keep me accountable. It takes a village, no?
Basically, there is no going back. That’s the both the tough side and the beauty of building awareness. While it’s great that awareness shines the light on what doesn’t serve me anymore, it also makes it impossible to revert to old ways of being. For me, it’s one big: “Oh, great! But oh crap, now I have to do all this internal work” 🙂
What are the areas of your own life in which you could be more expressive, more “you”, more authentic? Think it over and do share anytime!