Paul McAleer: Hi. This is Designing Yourself. I am Paul McAleer.
Whitney Hess: And I am Whitney Hess.
Paul McAleer: And we, this week, have decided to take on another very meaty topic, as we do here. The topic this week that we really wanted to discuss was brought to us by Lauren Bacon, and boy, I made it sound like she was a sponsor there. But really, she suggested this topic via our super-secret number.
And the idea is really the topic of comparison and how we compare ourselves to other people and kind of how we have these stories about ourselves that we carry around and what we do when we see others and how we react to those things online and offline and how that makes us feel. And I thought that was a really great thing to explore.
Whitney Hess: So, Paul, what do you think of just when you think of the word “comparison”? Like, how does that apply to your everyday life?
Paul McAleer: So, Where I go first is the idea of measuring up and not measuring up. It really goes to kind of a neutral to negative space for me first, where I start thinking, oh, it means what other people are doing and what I am not doing.
Whitney Hess: Right, because who says, oh, I’m totally measuring up?
Paul McAleer: Dude, I am so ahead of everybody else right now.
Whitney Hess: I don’t think those people exist.
Paul McAleer: I don’t think they do either, right? But, really, what brings this on? Where do we find these comparisons, first of all? Where does this come from?
Whitney Hess: Well, firstly, the first people that we have any interaction with, unfortunately, our lovely parents.
Paul McAleer: Yes.
Whitney Hess: I imagine that we get a lot of ideas about what we’re supposed to be comparing ourselves to from their notions of who they’re comparing themselves to. It feels like it’s a vicious cycle.
Paul McAleer: Because you basically start with this – you start with this notion of who you could be, right? It’s a potential you. And it could be full of all sorts of things, right? It’s emotionally loaded stuff. It’s got hopes and dreams and ideas and smarts and all sorts of stuff attached to it.
And, at least for me, I know that’s something I carried around for a very long time, like having that notion of this is the career path that I’m going to have and this is how I will act and kind of be in the world. That was something that, you know, I had imparted on me pretty young.
And it’s not a bad thing, right? That’s something that parents do. But it’s also acknowledgement that that ultimately might not be my full story or might not be who I am now or who I’ve become.
Whitney Hess: Totally. I mean, that sense of this is the choice that I have made and this is the choice I’m going to make next and this is the life that I’m supposed to be living, I often attribute that to the voice inside my head. And the voice inside my head tells me things to do. I mean, it sounds like I’m a sociopath, but yeah.
We have these thoughts, but I have thoughts, as I imagine many of you do, you – you, Paul, and the people listening – that it’s in a voice of somebody. And I think a lot of us think of it as our own voice, like, oh, I would never wear that, or I have to wear this if I want to get this kind of positive attention at work, or this is the way someone is supposed to behave when they want X, Y and Z. Or, of course you should make that decision because that’s going to get you the things that you need to have in life.
That talking that’s going on in my head, it always sounded like it was in my voice. Does the voice inside your head sound like it’s your voice?
Paul McAleer: Yes, it does. I don’t know if – you know, it’s funny because I think it’s a little different than my actual voice. You know, it’s like how you hear your – when you are talking out loud, it’s – the voice in your head is a little different than how it actually sounds recorded, which is always – at least for me it’s kind of strange still.
But the voice in my head is also different than that. But it’s also – you’re right in that it may not be – that might not actually be me sharing that information and doing that, right?
Whitney Hess: At all.
Paul McAleer: That could be learned, right?
Whitney Hess: Yeah. And what’s so creepy about it is that it has, over time, taken on the tone of our voice or at least what we say in our heads. Oh yeah, that’s me talking. But you’re so right that when you then listen to your voice recorded, you hear it back, everyone, I think, is disturbed by hearing their own voice because it’s like, whoa, that’s not what I sound like.
I think that we probably teach ourselves over the years that that voice that’s playing in infinite loop in our brains is actually us when it probably isn’t us at all.
Paul McAleer: Wow. Yeah, that’s true. I agree with you. I’m just thinking about, how do you separate that out then? How do you discover that? How do you observe that that’s not your voice in the first place?
Whitney Hess: I mean, I had a pretty powerful experience when I started my coaching program because I went through life thinking I was a deeply self-aware individual. I was like, I am an only child. I’ve spent so much time alone reflecting. I travel alone. I’ve been to White Sands, New Mexico by myself, and I’ve had spiritual experiences, and I’ve gone rock climbing, and I’ve gone to the top of that mountain and I’ve seen those five states. And I’ve been there.
I know me, and I know that that voice inside of my head is me. And I’m my own guiding light, and I’m self-reliant, and all that BS. I was so convinced of it.
And then, when I started my coaching program, one of the first things they had us do was take the Enneagram assessment. Have I told you about the Enneagram?
Paul McAleer: I don’t think so.
Whitney Hess: OK. I’m not going to go into too much detail right now because that would be the end of the show. I would never stop talking. But the Enneagram is a – to put it crudely, a personality test. But it is so much more robust than any Cosmo personality test or some online IQ test that you can take.
It’s very complex, and the concept is that every human being has all of the personalities within them. But which of the nine is it your habit to express most often? And I’m only giving that limited amount of information to explain what was so revelatory about this experience for me.
So, our instructors gave us a big book all about the Enneagram. There’s a website where you can download a sample test to take for free digitally, and you get the results right away. And, our assignment was to go home that evening and take the self-assessment and come back the next day knowing what type of the nine types we are.
And, I went back to my room, and I took the test. And it came up with the type number 3, the Achiever. And I said, well, OK. That sounds like me. And I went into the book, and I read the third chapter on the Achiever. And I had a breakdown because everything that it described was perhaps how I behave but deep down not how I see myself. And I was very upset that it was characterizing me as a – you know, I’m going to totally oversimplify what the Achiever is, but I’m going to explain it the way I was reading it in that moment.
Money-hungry, overachieving, social-climbing, career-obsessed freak. That’s how I read it. And, what occurred to me in that moment was, holy crap. That is not at all how I see myself. But, it may very well be what I’m displaying to the world. And I got very angry because I felt that that was so not a reflection of what the real me is inside, but instead is a reflection of how I was raised.
Because, I was raised by two people who came from next to nothing, who dug their way out of no resources, and their families could not support them. And they created something wonderful together, my parents. But they are, as a result of that, very focused on success, very focused on, you know, material things and having those things and enjoying the money that they’ve made.
And just that feels like them, not me. And what I was reading was like, it was so angering to me that I just basically said this Enneagram thing is total bullshit. I can’t believe that they’re having us take this test in the program. And I went in to class the next day, and when it – we were going around the room to say what type we found out we were. And when they asked my type I just broke down.
And they were, at the time, total strangers to me, the 20 other people in the room who ended up becoming some incredibly close friends of mine after a year of working through the program together. But, I just broke down because I was so angry that that was how it was defining me. And it was through a lot of recognizing why I kept – I basically kept taking the test.
And no matter how I took the test I was like, I’m going to role-play now. I’m going to pretend I’m someone else. And then I would take it, and I came up with the same thing every time. And I was driving myself insane. I was like, no, it has to be something else. It has to be something else.
And throughout the program, it was actually a few months into the program when I started to better understand, that voice inside my head that I always was so sure was me was actually my parents. And not in a negative way, not in a, like they had wronged me. But that was who I was always aspiring to please. I wanted my parents to be proud of me.
And so, their teachings were what I had carried in my mind and what I had perpetuated in my mind. And what they considered to be of importance was the measuring stick that I used in my life to compare myself against constantly.
And, when I started to undo that through a series of things that I’ve talked about ad nauseam in this podcast with you, and I started to understand, oh, that’s my voice underneath that thing. I later took the Enneagram again, and I came up with a totally different answer type for the first time. And for anyone who’s into the Enneagram or interested, I am a type 8, a Challenger. And you can read all about it.
So, that. And then when I read that chapter I was in tears of another kind because it was like, oh my God. Finally my measuring stick, like my sense of myself, it had taken a lot of unearthing to discover that.
Paul McAleer: Yeah, that totally makes sense. And what – I mean, it’s incredible to hear that, everything that went into that. There’s the idea of what you were told by your parents and also how you were taught and how you were raised. And then there was also this closeness of your identity with what others expect of you and also what is and is not your voice.
And it recalls some of the stuff we’ve talked about before around identity. But it also reminded me of some of my own work on this, too. While I haven’t been in a coaching situation, we just talked a couple of weeks ago, a couple of episodes ago, about stress. And, one of the things that I talked about was how I work with deadlines, right, where I get stuff done in advance, feel I’m pretty well planned and organized.
And, only recently have I really started to explore why that is, because there was definitely in our discussion – you know, I stated a lot of logical reasons why that was. Because I didn’t want to have stress on the day that something was due, I would finish it in advance. That would kind of shift that stress earlier, and I’d have to deal with it then.
But it got me to wondering, well, am I really an organized person? Like, am I organized? Or, is it just a part of me that’s organized and that part just gets a lot of play in my life?
Whitney Hess: Oh. That’s so interesting. So, if I understand what you’re saying correctly, that you pay more attention to the organized part than you do the not-so-organized part because you feel better crafting your identity around that?
Paul McAleer: Yeah, I do.
Whitney Hess: I love that.
Paul McAleer: I mean, that’s part of it, right? And that is a straight-up – that’s based on a straight-up comparison because I think about also some of the things that I was raised with, and one of them was definitely being organized and being neat and tidy. Those are things that were pretty important to my parents.
And also there’s the angle of money, which is also something that has been, you know, for good and for bad. That’s been something that’s been a big factor in my life and the way I approach a lot of things. But those are things that I held with me for a very long time and still do. But, kind of like you, in a sense, I felt that they were me.
And, like, the idea, just the simple idea, which I will admit is something that I worked on in counseling, the idea of the organizer me not being me is pretty stunning.
Whitney Hess: It is because it’s like, on the one hand, a huge relief because you’re like, oh, this thing I’ve been fighting against and trying to get right for so long, well, that’s not me anyway, so bye-bye. And then on the other hand it’s like, whoa. I’ve been wasting a lot of time, a lot of energy, trying to measure up in this way that doesn’t actually matter to me.
And then, thirdly, it’s like, oh. Uh-oh. Well, what am I left with? Now that I’ve identified that that isn’t me, what is me? And that’s really scary.
Paul McAleer: Oh, yes, it is, because there’s still the open question of how important it really is to me, which is not a trivial question either. But then, as you say, beyond that, it’s, well, if that’s not how I, in a sense, am measuring how good or how – not necessarily how good I am, but how I feel and how I am, positive or negative, and kind of looking at it that way, well then how do I judge myself on how I’m doing, right?
And there’s so much wrapped up around things like busyness and what we’re doing, and a lot of that gets pumped up on social media, right? I mean, we give –
Whitney Hess: Oh, talk about comparing yourself.
Paul McAleer: No kidding, right? So, we give – we do something on social media, and it becomes – it’s not quite like a bragging Tweet or anything like that. But the things that we see, and I know I have this experience, is that I see what other people are doing and I’m like, either I think, wow, I should do that, too, or, huh, that’d be cool if I could do that, or maybe I should just copy them and do that, too, and see how I feel about it.
Whitney Hess: Who doesn’t have those feelings? I mean, you see these people. First of all, you follow them for a reason, because there was something about them that you wanted to aspire to or that intrigued you. Or even if you followed them because you can’t stand them and you wanted to see what they were going to say next, even then there’s a part of you that’s, like, questioning the things that they do and then questioning, well, should I be doing that? And, Oh, I’m supposed to be doing that at this point in my career, or I didn’t know that that was the trend and I’m not following that.
And then there’s the whole, you know, fear of missing out, FOMO, realities of, no, everyone else is doing this and I’m not. And then suddenly you had no sense of doing the wrong thing, or you were perfectly enjoying the way you were living your life and what you were doing at that moment. And now that there’s something that presented itself that you aren’t doing now, and you think that other people are doing it without you, then it’s like, oh, well, I’m not doing the right things. I’m not living the right way. How did I not know about that? How did I not make it to that event?
It’s horrible. And what scares me the most are people who – and I say that abstractly, but I include myself in that 100% - who do things so that they can post them.
Paul McAleer: Yeah.
Whitney Hess: It’s like, oh, we’re going to go to this event so that we can take the selfie and post it and show everyone how connected we are, not that we wanted to go to the event, that we enjoyed the event, that we got anything out of the event. But now we get to post about the event and make other people feel that feeling that we feel when we see other people’s posts.
Paul McAleer: Yeah. What do you think about that? How do you feel about that?
Whitney Hess: It’s horrible, absolutely horrible.
Paul McAleer: I mean, is it the sole intention then to just go and post about it and not necessarily enjoy it but just be able to have it out there? Like, is that – do you think that’s a sole motivator for some folks?
Whitney Hess: Yes. But I don’t think that it is as devious as we’re making it sound, as I’m making it sound.
Paul McAleer: No.
Whitney Hess: But I think that it’s often to cover up other things like the question of, who am I? Because sometimes it’s so much easier to play the role, to say this is the character. Like, you call it the story that you’re living by. It’s like, oh, this is the character that I have in my head. I’m going to play that character because it answers all the questions about what I’m supposed to do.
I can go look for examples of that character in the world. Maybe I know them in that they’re my parents. Maybe I know them in that they’re my mentor or they’re this person I work with or this person I was once friends with or this person that I see in the media. And then I’m going to emulate them. And then it removes all of the onus on me to look inside myself for the answers. Instead I’ll look outside to examples and then make the comparisons that I need to make to what I’m doing and go do what they’re doing.
And I think that it’s a deflection from not knowing what’s going on with you. And I think we all experience this because when we start to ask these questions of ourselves, and then the answers aren’t in there, it’s horrifying. It’s completely horrifying.
When I came up with the realization that that voice was not me, it was like, well, what am I left with now? Where is my voice? Where has it been hiding? And, you talk about some of the really deep realizations that you’ve come to through your counseling. And I’ve had a lot of the same different realizations but the same sorts of experiences. And one of those was how I would always talk about friends of mind that had qualities that I admired. And I would say things like, oh, I wish I could be like that.
One example is, my friend, Abby, who I grew up with, who was so – and still is – so free-spirited. She was so different from everyone else in school. Even when we were really young, there was something about her that she just was free. She didn’t live by other people’s rules. She just had a way of showing up where she was truly present, where she was always willing to dance.
If there was music playing in the distance, she was running towards it so that she could move her body to it. She would run up onstage whenever there was an opportunity, and it wasn’t for attention. It was because she was moved to live. And she just did wild things.
She went to Outward Bound, and the things that she went through there I was just so impressed by. She went to an arts camp where I was so jealous of all the stuff that she had done over the summer because I had gone to the sports camp, and I didn’t even play sports. I have no idea why I went there, because that was the place I was supposed to go.
She went to the place that was – you know, she was just such a creative force. And I’m putting it in the past tense. She’s very much the same way now. But I just looked up to her then and wanted to know, why can’t I be like that? And, I remember somehow that came up with my therapist a long time ago. And I said something like, oh, I just wish I could be as free-spirited as Abby.
And, my therapist was like, you mean, you’re not free-spirited? You strike me as being very free-spirited. You travel here. You travel there. And I’m like, no, but I’m doing that for work. She’s like, you go to this conference where you don’t know anybody. You go to this event and you do this. You do that.
She’s like, you love eating new food. You go and you travel just to, like, get a new dining experience. You go to all these things. And I’m like, no, but not like Abby who does this. And she, for the first time, I think, made me realize all the times I’ve said I wish I was so this, I wish I was so that. when I started to unearth that that voice inside my head that was driving my decisions all along wasn’t really me, I began to learn slowly that every time I’d said, oh, I wish I could be more whatever, that was actually me.
Paul McAleer: That’s a big realization.
Whitney Hess: Kind of major.
Paul McAleer: Yeah. And, you know, I think about the idea of – you’ve mentioned careers, too, a little bit. And I definitely think about that in this context because, at least for the field that we’re in, there’s not really a career path. I mean, that’s putting it mildly, right?
Whitney Hess: Tell me about it.
Paul McAleer: Because it’s like, what do you do? Well, you enter UX and maybe do wireframes. Maybe you do research. Maybe you do all of that stuff. Where do you go from there? Maybe you manage people. Maybe you open a company or do freelance stuff instead of working for somebody else, like all of these things. And there’s so many possibilities.
And so, one of the things that – and I trust this is common – is that just looking at what other people in the industry are doing and just winging it based on what they're doing, like taking their playbook and just saying, oh, I’m going to do this now and see what that does.
And sometimes that’s successful, and sometimes it’s not. But I think, much like you were saying earlier, if we kind of take that – and, boy, that’s another sports metaphor, right? So, we steal the playbook. We take those things and adapt them on our own. That also relieves that pressure for us to come up with something deep, as you say.
So, it’s a little easier to digest, well, I’m just copying what so-and-so did, because then internally we can justify that pretty easily if it fails because we can say, well, that wasn’t the right person to copy. Who else should I be looking to?
Whitney Hess: Yes.
Paul McAleer: This person? OK, that’s the person I should look to. Huh, that didn’t work either. Who’s next? You know, kind of that type of thing, it kind of throws it outside of ourselves. And instead, the idea of being able to, first of all, recognize that it is something you come up with on your own and then, from there, developing something on your own, is way more challenging and way harder. But, I think the potential is also, obviously, much bigger, too. It’s just a lot more scary to do.
Whitney Hess: It’s totally scary. And we see these people and we think the reason why they’re so well-known is because they figured it out. Whatever it is, they must have figured it out. And so, let me just emulate them, because if I just do all those things, then I’m going to figure it out, too.
Paul McAleer: Absolutely.
Whitney Hess: And it’s just like the product development process, right? Like, there are some companies that go out there and they buy the products of all the people they want to be in competition with. And then they try to replicate them just from looking at the products. And they have so little understanding of what goes into it, of identifying the target audiences and understanding those audiences and developing a strategy to reach those audiences and what the product road map looks like for 18 months out and how – and bringing the right people together to develop the products in those ways and nurturing their creativity and so on and so forth, that they just think, oh, here’s a widget. We can make widgets, too.
And, everyone, the whole market, regardless of how “sophisticated” the buyer, and I hate that designation, but that’s how we talk about it, everyone can notice that that’s a knockoff. And, I have a feeling that the same is true for us in our careers, that when you go and you try to do all the things that someone else did just by watching them from the outside, you come across as a total knockoff rather than understanding yourself better and bringing your unique talents to the world and allowing your life to unfold in the way that it’s meant to.
And we were talking before we hit record about the annoyance of saying things happen for a reason, but the way that they’re going to. Let’s just put it that way. Let them unfold how they will, rather than trying to make them unfold in a particular way.
And I’ll say this. I was desperate for mentorship when I was not finding it from the people that I was working closely with. And I reached out to the people in the UX community, and I did my damnedest to get in with the people that I considered to be people who figured it out and people whose careers I wanted to have a career like. And I was going to learn everything I could from them, and I was going to do what they did.
And, for many of those people, they were lovely individuals who themselves had no clue how they had gotten there. And they couldn’t really share what the secrets were because it all had just happened. And then there were other individuals who have the appearance of having tremendous success. But the more you get to know them, the more you realize what a farce it all is. And you finally realize I would never want to emulate that. I would never want that life, because that’s an unhappy life of having to keep up the farce.
And they’re doing the same things that everyone else is. They’re looking at everyone else and saying, how did they figure it out? Everyone thinks I’ve got it figured out. How did they figure it out? We’re all comparing ourselves to each other.
Paul McAleer: Yeah, because I had – maybe a month or two back I had coffee with a rather nice gentleman who enjoys the show and also just wanted to talk about career stuff and life stuff. And, I hope he doesn’t mind that I’m excerpting our conversation here, but one thing he asked me is like, how do you do it all?
And I had somebody else ask me that, too. It’s like, how do you do all of this stuff? And I’m just – I don’t have an answer for that because to me I don’t know what I’m doing. To me from the inside it doesn’t feel – that comparison always shows up, so it feels like, ooh, I don’t think I’m doing enough. So, it looks like I’m doing a lot. I see how this is. OK, this is weird.
So, I don’t know how to answer that. And I’m very uncomfortable doing so because, you know, it’s not to say that the image that I put out there is totally – it’s not a farce. It is edited and curated as is any image that anybody puts out there. But, the question of seeing it from the inside and having to know what goes into all this work versus really the last thing or the only thing that people see is a huge gap.
And I also think about the relationship to deliverables in our business, right, that terrible fabled word, right? When you make a report or you make a prototype or you make a product, you don’t have a sense of everything that went into it. It’s just not part of that process of using it, right? It’s simply that’s not what you’re necessarily judged on.
You could put a lot of work into something, and it might not turn out well at all. Or it might turn out fantastic. Or maybe you put a little work into it, you know?
Whitney Hess: Maybe the flipside. Maybe you did very little and you got lucky.
Paul McAleer: Totally, absolutely. I mean, that goes hand-in-hand with writing, too, right? Sometimes the posts that you put the least amount of effort into, they take off like a rocket. And you're like, shit, I didn’t do anything. How did this happen? And then the ones you labor over, you know, you put them out and it’s like nothing. And that –
Whitney Hess: Crickets.
Paul McAleer: Yeah, I’ve definitely had that happen.
Whitney Hess: But see, and that – what you’re bringing up is that moment of comparing yourself to your past self.
Paul McAleer: Absolutely.
Whitney Hess: Of, oh, well, I don’t deserve all the accolades for this because I know that I’ve put so much more work into other things. That was what really deserved the accolades. This, I, you know, did it in my sleep. And this is getting attention? And then, that confuses us, you know, ten times as much because it’s like, wait. Why did I spend all that time doing that other thing when it didn’t go anywhere? It’s very hard. So, I’m dying to ask you a question.
Paul McAleer: Uh-oh.
Whitney Hess: Yeah, I know. Uh-oh is right. Without, you know, saying anything that would make you uncomfortable – now I’m really making you uncomfortable –
Paul McAleer: No kidding.
Whitney Hess: What are the things in life that you’ve been like, oh, I wish I could – like, I said I always would say, always, I so wish I could be free-spirited. I wish I could be that kind of person. I’m just not. I’m Type A. I’m totally uptight. I am just a New Yorker through and through. I wish I could be so free-spirited. What’s that kind of thing that you’ve always said I wish I could be whatever?
Paul McAleer: Definitely the idea of being a free spirit is there for me as well, although for me it’s been more of, I don’t know about a free spirit but more just being more relaxed, I guess, and not – like, I can define it by the negatives really easily, right? So, it’s like not being so organized, not being so nerdy. Like, all these things that I started to associate with negative, I wanted to flip that.
So, being more relaxed and being more open, those are definitely two of the big things for me. And those are things that I still feel I’m working on, for sure. I’ve held those for such a long time, too.
Whitney Hess: Wow, really?
Paul McAleer: Yeah.
Whitney Hess: I mean, I think probably anyone that’s listening that doesn’t know you probably feels exactly as I do, and I do know you, that it’s so surprising because I think of you as being so relaxed and so open. You share so much about yourself with so many people. But that’s not how you perceive yourself?
Paul McAleer: Well, I should be clear about the open. So, I think that’s – boy, I define that a little differently. So, when I’m saying be open, I just mean more along the lines of being more open to possibilities and not necessarily be more open about myself, because I think that’s something that I’ve really started to bring in to me a lot. So, I’m glad that that’s there. So, thank you.
And, insofar as the being relaxed stuff goes, yeah, I think the hard thing for me with that has been that forever and ever I – there was the conflation of being relaxed with not being present. And I think what it was for me in reality for a very long time is that I was actually not present with my life and my choices and my designing myself and all of those things. I just wasn’t really checked in for that. I was kind of checked out and very much on autopilot.
And, that also stressed me out, surprisingly. So, I wanted to kind of, instead, relax genuinely and also recognize that I really wanted to do that. I really wanted to do that, versus a voice telling me to relax or a voice saying this is what I should be doing in order to not be stressed out or what have you.
So, I’m glad I give off the perception of being relaxed. However, that has not – sometimes it’s still not the case. But it has not historically been the case for me.
Whitney Hess: I can’t help but wonder if the reason that you have done so much work around helping people to understand their story and how the story you tell yourself of who you are isn’t necessarily who you are, and it maybe was who you once were, but it doesn’t have to be who you are anymore. And all that is what I constantly say, this phrase that I have written on a Post-It note, and it stares at me all day, every day. We teach what we need to learn.
Paul McAleer: Absolutely.
Whitney Hess: My suspicion is you are naturally deeply relaxed, deeply open to a world of possibility, a very calm, and – you know, maybe you're not naturally a disorganized person. But maybe you’re not naturally organized. Is that different than saying naturally disorganized?
Paul McAleer: I don’t think so.
Whitney Hess: And that there’s stress that is involved in telling yourself that story of who you are and then living up to it, comparing yourself constantly to how well am I doing at fulfilling the story I have about myself, when in actuality if you just gave up that story, then you could be all those other things and it would be so much easier.
And that’s what I’m realizing, that I had an idea of what my career was supposed to look like. I made a lot of missteps based on other people’s guidance. And they meant well. But they had an idea for what I was supposed to do, what they wanted to see of me, or what they were trying to do or what they had done. And so, that was the advice that they could give.
And, taking the answers from the outside, or trying to be what I hoped would make my parents proud or what I thought they wanted for me or what I thought other people in my life wanted for me was ultimately so much more stressful than just saying, screw it. I am not going to do any of those things. I’m not going to accomplish those things. And, by the way, that’s not who I am.
And, one of the biggest kind of examples of that was when I left New York and people who I was deeply close to my entire life were flabbergasted. They said, “You, leave New York? You are New York.” I’ve said this so many times since it’s happened. And I was like, actually, if you have that perception of me, I guess I haven’t done a very good job of letting you get to know me, because actually I’m not. I am not at all. And, this ain’t my bag, and I’m not going to pretend anymore.
And there was something just so liberating about that. But then, of course, the question you're left with is, so what am I? and we’re so used to playing the comparison game of, here’s the story. Here’s the measuring stick. Do I live up to it? Am I doing the right things? Using this thing, this external thing, as a benchmark.
And, maybe we aren’t meant to replace it with something that’s more authentic to us, but maybe the idea is that we just throw it out altogether.
Paul McAleer: Yeah, because my philosophy with books is this. If I start reading a book and I don’t enjoy it, I will stop reading it.
Whitney Hess: Love it.
Paul McAleer: I will not finish it, because for the longest time I was like, no, I must finish every book that I read. And, you know, no, because if it’s not a good story or I’m not enjoying it, why would I continue then for the remainder of the book? Why would I do that? Like, that’s – and not just thinking from the organized perspective, although part of me is definitely thinking about that – you know, that’s a good waste of time. But it’s also like why wouldn’t I choose something else that I’m going to enjoy a lot more?
So, similarly, if there’s – and, you know, there’s your blatant metaphor of the night. It’s, if you are – if the story of you is not something that you enjoy doing, just stop reading it. I mean, stop reading it and write a new one and just put it on a frickin’ Post-It and not even a novel, but just something else.
But, know. I guess the other part of it is, yeah, I’m being flippant. But it’s also know that you can stop reading that story, too. You don’t have to continue on that at all if you don’t want to. It’s totally your choice. It’s totally your choice, which is a huge thing. And there are plenty of other books out there, too.
Whitney Hess: It is a huge thing.
Paul McAleer: It’s huge.
Whitney Hess: And I think that at some point in every person’s life they realize I can stop reading this book. But here’s the rub. I think that when you realize that, it’s just as hard, if not harder, to stop reading it, because then what you’re left with is, this was a choice. I could have stopped reading this book, and I didn’t. And now I am so upset by how much time I’ve wasted that it’s almost easier to just keep reading the book.
Like, when you don’t return a phone call and then you’re like, I’m just going to return the call tomorrow, and then something comes up and then you’re like, oh, I’m just going to call back the next day. And then, it extends because you’re so embarrassed by how much time it’s taken to return the call that you end up taking longer.
And then it becomes such an absurd amount of time that you’re even more embarrassed by how much time it’s taken you to return the phone call, so you don’t return it, and on and on until you never return the frickin’ phone call.
And, I don’t think it’s unlike that. It’s like you say. Stop reading the book. It’s an amazing – it’s such a good feeling when you feel that, when you come to that conclusion, not because you listened to a podcast where two people were talking about having experienced it themselves. But when something in your life happens to you where suddenly you realize it is in your power to stop reading that book, that feeling is awesome. But the feeling that comes after of, and now that I know that and I’m not going to stop reading it, now I feel even worse.
Paul McAleer: Yeah.
Whitney Hess: And, what I have yet to figure out, as if any of this can be figured out, which is a huge presumption. But, what I have yet to really wrap my head around is, what is it that leads us to actually stop reading it? Not the knowing, but the stopping.
Paul McAleer: Yeah, because the knowing is – with any of this stuff, right, that’s the observation. That’s the research that we do. And that’s kind of the first big, important thing is really noticing that there is a story and there’s a book and that you’re reading it and you’re like, huh.
I mean, I’m visualizing this. I’m like, I’m in a comfortable chair. I’m reading the book about my life and how it’s supposed to go. And, huh, I am here reading this. It’s like being present in that sense. But then, what do you do if you don’t – like, if you want to stop reading the book for real and you choose to do that, then what do you need on the other side? Do you need to have a book at all? There’s your crazy metaphor continued.
Whitney Hess: Right. And that’s – I think that we become so conditioned to the act of reading a book that when we realize, OK, I don’t have to read this book so I’m going to stop, the natural, next thought is, so what book am I going to read?
Paul McAleer: Exactly.
Whitney Hess: And, when that other book does not present itself is this very frightening thing, because now you have to keep reading a book you know you hate. And you have to keep reading it anyway.
Paul McAleer: Right.
Whitney Hess: And yet, how can we, you and I and those who are listening who have experienced this or who are clueing into the fact that they have experienced this based on what they’re hearing us talk about, what can we do to help others stop trying to read any book at all?
Paul McAleer: That’s a great question. I would say one thing to keep in mind is that stop reading the book, which is now, of course, the episode title – and, boy, if I was writing a book and I didn’t have a title in mind, that would be an awesome title for a book.
Whitney Hess: Stop Reading This Book?
Paul McAleer: Stop Reading This Book. It’s like Steal This Book.
Whitney Hess: That’s what I was just thinking. It’s the opposite of Steal This Book.
Paul McAleer: Stop Reading This Book. Done.
Whitney Hess: It’s, Don’t Read This Book.
Paul McAleer: I can see the reviews for it already.
Whitney Hess: That should be the title – Don’t Read This Book.
Paul McAleer: Don’t Read This Book. I’m sure that exists.
Whitney Hess: That has to exist. I’m looking it up.
Paul McAleer: Yeah, that’s got to be out there. I’m sure there’s, like, eight copies of that. Nevertheless, so, one thing to keep in mind, if you choose to stop reading the book, that doesn’t mean the stuff in the book was totally worthless, right? Because I think – you know, the thing that you brought up about, gosh, I wasted a lot of time reading this or, wow, look how much time I spent in that, I really heard a lot of negativity in that. And I certainly agree with that sentiment and that idea, is that it feels like, oh, it’s been a long time and, wow, I don’t agree with this.
But also recognize that there could be stuff in there that’s still valuable to you, like genuinely so. But I think part of it then is really, first of all, not being dismissive of what you’ve done, because you’ve still done things, right? You’ve done things in your life. They’re still with meaning. But now, part of that is saying, OK, well, maybe those things just don’t have the same meaning for me anymore. That’s cool. I’m not the same person I was five minutes ago. I’m not the same person I was ten years ago, right?
So, it’s possible that that book still applies to me. But it’s also quite possible it doesn’t have to anymore. So, not instantly throwing things out is good, but also recognizing that you should be willing, ultimately, to let go of all that stuff. You might have to.
Whitney Hess: Yeah. I’m glad you went there, because I am telling my story when I get negative about the old book I was reading. That’s my shtick of being angry that that was the way I was making decisions. What you just said is so much more wise, which is, look, that’s what you needed then. That’s how it was. It’s not a judgment of bad or good. It just is.
And it doesn’t have to be that anymore. It can be this other thing. And you can appreciate what was, and you can recognize the benefits that you got out of it. But you can also accept that it is no longer the story you need to be telling yourself. There is something else for you now, and that it’s perfectly allowable. You can allow yourself to shift without judging the past as positive, negative or anything in the spectrum between them.
And I appreciate you taking it to that place because I think that the value judgment that we place on these things is in many ways what gets in our way of making the change.
Paul McAleer: Absolutely. And it pulls on the core stuff in us like identity, which I know we’ve talked about. And I know we talked about, also, the idea of changing and allowing yourself to change. It pulls heavily on those things, and it also pulls heavily on what other people are going to think, because we’re social creatures, right? And we care about what other people think, to some extent.
What we choose to do with that, that’s up to us. Some people, it’s going to impact them a lot more than others. But if you essentially – ooh, I’m going to go with this metaphor. If you essentially stopped reading the book, put it on the shelf, if you start a new book there are other people who are going to say, I don’t like that book. That’s really weird. Or, it’s in another language. I don’t get that.
There are people who are just not going to understand. But then there are other people beyond them who will understand or at least say, you know what? I like this author. I like what this person’s saying. I’m going to stick with this person. And that’s cool. And I’m along for the ride on this. Now I have belabored that metaphor to death.
Whitney Hess: But you know what? What you’re saying has so much truth to it, which was what I had to learn. Why would Abby have ever been friends with someone like me if I was as un-free-spirited as I took myself to be?
Paul McAleer: There you go.
Whitney Hess: Clearly, her experience of me was very different than my experience of me. She saw me as someone who would be willing to do all those wild things with her or at the very least appreciate some of the wild things she was doing and egg her on and be excited for her and proud of her and just be there for her.
And, if I had that in me, then that must have been part of my story all along. And when we either find the right story to read or, as the title “Designing Yourself” would indicate, stop reading other people’s stories and write our own, we attract people into our lives who are, in a much deeper, more authentic sense, meant to be there, that we connect with on a very different level because we truly see each other.
We’re not just two people, you know, attempting to live by another person’s story, and so we’re supposed to be in each other’s lives, because that’s the supposed to. But instead we’re meant to. I’m being very obtuse with the difference between those two words, but hopefully you know what I mean.
Paul McAleer: I do. It really goes beyond the things that we see on social media and the selfies and the pictures with other people and all of those things kind of together in saying that, yep, you know, we’re going to go for something that’s a little more real and a little more authentic than, hey, I got to hang out with this cool person. Cool. Or I went and experienced this thing just because I wanted to post about it. It’s something that takes on a more real quality, for sure.
Whitney Hess: And, like so many of the topics that we’ve spoken about to this point, it’s about living now as opposed to trying to live for what the future holds or constantly obsessed with what you did or didn’t do in the past but really just being here now, doing what’s right for you now.
Paul McAleer: Yep. All in on that. People – you know, people are impacted in the present by the past and the future. But the truth is all we have right now is that present. So, we have to be who we are right now.
Whitney Hess: So then, is the conclusion that comparisons are, by their very nature, being stuck in the past or the future?
Paul McAleer: I think they are. I think they are, because what else are you going to compare it to? The only thing that's happening in the present is what’s here in the present. There’s nothing to compare it to. It just is.
Whitney Hess: You can’t bring a book into the present tense.
Paul McAleer: Oh, that’s true. The book’s already been written. Oh, good. Nice. I love it.
Whitney Hess: See? Your metaphor works.
Paul McAleer: This metaphor is the best metaphor ever.
Whitney Hess: It’s got legs.
Paul McAleer: It’s a book with legs. I love it. All right.
Whitney Hess: Well, this has been a wonderful second season with you, Paul.
Paul McAleer: And you as well. Thank you so much. I’ve loved that we’ve tried new stuff this season, and we’ve had fantastic conversations with each other and, of course, with guests back at the start of the season, too. That was awesome stuff.
Whitney Hess: Yes. Thank you to all of our guests. Thank you to people who share your thoughts and feelings on our episodes. Thank you for sharing your ideas for topics. You will definitely be hearing from us again. We will have something to share with you in the future. I’m not quite sure what that is yet.
Paul McAleer: Yep, but something, and it’ll be something great, for sure. Thank you to everyone for listening and for your support. We really, really do appreciate it.
Whitney Hess: Bye for now.
Paul McAleer: We’ll talk soon. Bye.
Whitney Hess: Designing Yourself is hosted by Whitney Hess and Paul McAleer and is edited by Aaron Dowd. Our theme music is “All Heroes” by Ardecan Music Productions with some rights reserved via creative commons. You can follow Whitney on Twitter at @whitneyhess. And you can follow Paul at @paulmcaleer.
Paul McAleer: If you like what you heard on this episode, stop by our website at DesigningYourself.net. You can subscribe to the show via your favorite podcasting app or via iTunes. We love to hear your feedback. So if you have an idea for a topic, a guest, or just want to say hello, you can call our listener hotline. Call 1-404-500-SELF. You can always reach us on Twitter at @designingyou, and our super-secret email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for listening. We’ll talk again soon.
End of recording.