When I spend time with family, I remember I am known for more than my professional accomplishments, and more than the public persona I show to casual acquaintances or even friends. No matter what I have accomplished, when I am with my family I am seen as me. Now, I am often seen through blurry lenses by people who confuse who I was with who I am now. Still, there is something so grounding and humbling about being reminded that I am seen for more than what I have accomplished. I am seen in my vulnerability.
It’s easy to go through life pretending I am all grown up. I mean, I am grown up. But I am also still that little kid who my parents and siblings fought with, laughed with, cried with. I shared some of my most embarrassing moments with them, and I can’t hide from that.
After all, I still remember the struggles my siblings had, from bedwetting to getting bullied to getting rejected from a sports team. With my family, I am reminded that my whole self is on display everyday, even though I may work hard to cover parts of me up.
When hurt gets misexpressed
My friend Jack was just commenting on a difficult email exchange he had with his mother. He decided that his wife and two kids and he couldn’t make a long drive across the state for a family gathering. His mother, probably out of her own hurt, let him know that she was very disappointed in him.
Although this brought up in him a deep feeling of anguish, from a high level view there is something quite ironic about this. We are thrown into a society that values what we accomplish, and yet those who matter most to us have a very different set of criteria to gauge us by. Jack is a very accomplished, strong, humble professional, fighting with strong ethics to make the world a better place, who is an excellent, devoted parent. Yet his mother is disappointed with him. Why? Because she misses him. She isn’t paying attention to the professional accomplishments or even the strong family unit he has built. She misses her son, the stripped down bare human being that she knows perhaps better than anyone else in the world.
Unfortunately, her hurt came out in a way that made him feel unloved. The truth is, she loves him more deeply than ever. This misalignment between perception and reality can be very painful.
It only takes one person to change a relationship
So even as I am creating the life I want and trying to make my community better in the ways that I can, being with my family is a humbling reminder that it is not only about what I’ve accomplished in life, but about who I have become in the process. I hope that the next time I get together with my family at large, I can integrate who I was with who I have become, and allow myself to be seen authentically.
I think it is often true that there are people in our lives who can’t really see us for who we are. My mom or my dad, or my brothers, sisters or friends from childhood may have a vision of us “as we used to be” that feels constraining to us. Still, we always have the choice of who we want to be, and who we are has an especially big impact on our family. It only takes one person to start a meaningful conversation. It only takes one person to bring a more authentic quality to our mutual interactions.
In some ways, my accomplishments carry no currency with my family. That’s a good reminder to come back into my humanness, which is where I find real connection and belonging anyway.