Still blogging away alongside three other talented bloggers. Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays. (Usually we are on time. Usually. Ok, sometimes.)
Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:
I chose the topic this week, and I said: Write about a time (at least one, can be more) someone else described you and you were shocked – either because they were so wrong or because they were spot on.
This topic came to me after a spate of descriptions of me by other people in a short period of time. Their comments really got me wondering about what other people think about me and whether I agree with their assessments. Here are three memorable examples:
Small But Mighty
I’ve had the awesome luck of finding a wonderful legal mentor who has, over the years, also become a great friend. I met Dick in early 2008 when I began working at a fast-paced, interestingly run law firm in Chicago. Dick was a partner and I a new, lowly associate. Dick soon became my go-to for so many things: how to bill my time, case names I couldn’t remember (but he always could), how to get through a trial. (His words “progress not perfection” stay with me to this day, and I call upon them often in my everyday life, like recently when I was trying to re-cover some kitchen chairs.) Dick is honest and creative and hilarious and sometimes intense. He is good on his feet – something with which I’ve always struggled, and something that makes him an incredible litigator. And he’s a great listener, which makes him a wonderful friend.
Dick left that law firm long before I, and when I followed suit years later, it was an inglorious departure (not unusual for this firm, sad to say). When we parted ways, the powers that be decided to mess with my final paycheck. I won’t get into the details here, as they are long and boring and infuriating, but I will say what they did was illegal (I won’t even touch the moral piece). I immediately reached out to Dick for help, and he worked for weeks as a mediator to get the firm to fix my check. He got nowhere (as I expected), and so I got creative. I went to the IRS.
Fast forward about a year and a half, when the IRS contacted the old firm. Suddenly, the firm powers were very interested in fixing my check – and where should they send it? Dick jumped back in (at this point, I refused to communicate with anyone involved in the mess on the firm’s side).
The firm sent the check. And they messed with it AGAIN.
I so I reached out to Dick, again. He, in turn, sent the office manager an email that I will keep forever, as it contained a sentence that I want to put on a T-shirt or maybe even my headstone:
He wrote, “To mistreat her is regrettable. To underestimate her is insane.”
I read this. And then I read it again and again and again. And I smiled as I forwarded that email to about five of my closest friends. Look what Dick wrote about me! Look what Dick thinks about me! I was flattered, to say the least.
I’d long known Dick considers me a competent attorney (years earlier, he’d told me I was too good for that firm). He’d reached out to me here and there to discuss legal concepts, and he regretted we’d never found a way to again work together. He admires my research and writing skills, always my strong points. But I had no idea he saw me to be so competent in other, bigger ways. I know I’ve never seen myself in quite that way. I just wanted my paycheck – whatever it took. I’ve never felt as competent as Dick suggested me to be.
And so his words surprised me – in a good way. They made me question whether I deserved his praise, whether his assessment is, indeed, correct. I’d like to think I do and it is. But until I do, I will take a great deal of pride in the fact that my mentor, someone I hold in high esteem, thinks similarly about me. So much so, I may just order that T-shirt.
Put Your Hands Up
Not long after Dick lauded my competence, I sent some writing of another kind to another mentor, author Wade Rouse. I’ve been working with Wade for many months as I finish up the final draft of a book I’ve been writing. I love Wade. He is smart and funny and genuine and honest. His books are some of my favorites, and I value his advice and feedback. The fact that he and his partner, Gary, are incredibly wonderful people just makes it all that much easier and more enjoyable.
At the beginning of this year, I sent Wade my full manuscript for him to critique. The book is a memoir about a friendship I’ve been lucky enough to have for many years, and so it is quite personal, and sharing it feels akin to handing someone your diary. But I felt okay sending it to Wade – his books are just as raw and honest. I looked forward to his feedback, good or bad.
Because Wade and Gary winter in California (and I wintered in Chicago, blegh), we FaceTimed to discuss Wade’s ideas and impressions. I won’t even get into the nitty gritty of how Wade helped me (or how much fun it is to FaceTime with Wade and Gary, even when Gary accidentally FaceTimes you eating tortilla chips and not wearing a shirt). I want to focus on one comment Wade made.
As I said, my book is a memoir, so how I come across in the book is key. Wade addressed this. He said, “I really see you in this book. You are how you are in real life. You’re funny, you’re smart, you’re sarcastic, and you’re – ” and here Wade held up his hands in a pushing-away motion. Wade kept talking but mentally I paused for a moment. I thought, Wade thinks I keep people at a distance. Wow. And then I thought, I totally do that!
I’d never before really thought about the walls I put up between myself and others, but I couldn’t deny them once Wade put up his hands. Wade’s gesture created a visceral reaction in me, the same feeling I get in my chest when I interact with people: a mix of anxiety and guardedness. Once I thought about it, what surprised me most wasn’t what Wade identified but the fact he identified it. I’ve been in the same room with Wade just a handful of times for a total of maybe fifteen hours, and yet he’d been able to sense that about me in a way that no one else ever had (indeed, when I asked a few friends if they thought I do that, they said no).
Wade’s perception reinforced my faith in him as a mentor, and a friend. His intuition is spot on, even if I don’t want to admit it, even when I put it in my own words
Turn Up the Radio
The last striking observation came not from a mentor, or even a friend, but from a child. My child. My youngest child, who, at the whopping age of 9, has figured me out.
We were driving from Chicago to Tennessee after finally selling our house in Evanston. Both girls jumped in the van with me (and Uncle Jesse, our youngest cat). As we drove through Kentucky, a good song came on the radio (I think it was Garth), and I turned it up and started singing. The 9 sighed and said, “There goes Momma, falling in love with her songs.”
The 9 is not known for her filter. She tends to say what she thinks, giving little thought to how that might make the listener feel. (She doesn’t like your hair? You’ll know it.) For that reason, I can sometimes be defensive when she speaks. I opened my mouth to respond, but then I realized she was right: Momma does fall in love with her songs.
And that’s ok. I’m ok with my kids knowing I love music, even if they don’t like my music. I want them to grow up surrounded by the sound and the energy – and the passion good music can stir up. Nothing makes me happier than when someone reaches out to me and says, “Hey, I heard a Bon Jovi song today and thought of you.” That means they understand my connection, even if they don’t share it. That means they understand how music means a lot to me. I hope that, someday, my 9 and her sisters will feel the same way. If the worst thing someone says about me is, “She loves Bon Jovi,” I can die a happy woman.
The episode in the van has helped me realize how truly intuitive my youngest child can be. I’ve learned to listen to her insights, and she’s remarkably on target much of the time – about situations and about people. She prides herself on being nonjudgmental (except about your outfit). Instead, she just calls it as she sees it. Or, here, as she hears it. And she sure knows her Momma.