Yesterday, I went to get a haircut after months of letting it grow out from a style that was completely short. I had never been to this particular place before and there was a line forming at the front desk due to problems with the credit card processing. I sat in line for a few minutes feeling a bit irritated about the wait, not really wanting to talk, and simply wishing that I could get my hair cut and get the hell out of there as quickly as possible. While I waited, one of the women who worked there tried to make the usual customer service banter with me and my mood in that moment completely showed. In my head, I said to myself, that she now thinks that I’m a sullen asshole and just knew that she was going to be the one assigned to cut my hair. Sure enough that is what happened.
Now, this type of situation can be a common occurrence for me when I’m in a more introverted mood. People around me perceive me to be angry or shy or whatever, due to the look that I have on my face, which to me feels completely neutral but other people don’t take it that way. When I have gone out to socialize in the past, I have experimented with trying to induce a certain perception of myself for other people. A few times, I even went out with the intent of making myself out to be more awkward or aloof, and was laughing like crazy on the inside at the reactions that I got. Yesterday, I decided to try and turn around the initial perception that she had of me being sullen and angry and experienced some good success. From the time I sat down in the chair, I tried to embrace the awkwardness and made it to be a running joke between us. I recognized that my voice was weak and un-emotive, so I pushed through anyways and delivered every comment or joke that I could, even if it was completely deadpan. You know what? It worked, we were both laughing the entire time, and she even started opening up about stupid customers and things she hated about the job. She told me that I was ‘really good at sarcasm’ and believe me it’s always preferable to be perceived as a sarcastic asshole as opposed to a sullen one.
This little interaction got me thinking a lot about perception and how it shapes our lives and the kinds of opportunities it can lead to or shut us out of. I know that personally and for many other guys, the perception of who they are hinders the reality of who they actually are. For instance, a guy who is perceived as nerdy will get stereotyped and put into a certain category of social value if he does nothing to fight against that perception. It is interesting that what often ends up happening with these guys is that they feel that ‘being themselves’ is a strategy that has failed them in being popular socially and landing dates with women and so they feel the need to attempt to make themselves over in someone else’s image. They want to be the cool guy.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with you. Seriously, you need to understand that this is a fact…there is nothing wrong with you. Beyond the internal battle you may be waging against yourself in your own my there is also the level of how other people perceive who you are. It’s akin to basic marketing, if you were to take identical soda and place one in a Coca-Cola bottle and another in some generic bottle, the soda in the Coca-Cola bottle will be perceived to have higher value. Why? Years and years of marketing and product placement have created ideals and warm feelings toward the Coca-Cola brand while no feelings have been created for the generic brand, it’s just perceived as inferior. The truth is that they are both just carbonated sugar water.
Now you’re not a product but there definitely is a bit of selling that goes on socially. Whether it is something that is shallow or not, it is still a fact of life that you will be judged by other people based on what you present to them. So, why does the ‘nerdy’ guy who likes video games and reading books not get laid? Is it specifically because he enjoys those activities? Nope. Millions of people play video games either on systems or on their phones and still enjoy an active social and sex life. Reading never hindered me, I actually started reading more as I got better at talking to women and if anything it only helped me express myself more clearly and be more engaging in conversation. Besides, plenty of gorgeous women love to read. The problem the nerdy guy actually faces and one that I had to work my way through until I understood was one of perception.
Make an honest assessment of yourself. What do people perceive you as? Are you out of shape? Do your clothes fit? Are they even a good style on you? When you talk to people do they perceive you as awkward? As a timid guy? Do you get the perception that you are a sullen asshole like I do sometimes? Haha. You don’t have to tear yourself down and declare that you’re a hopeless case, just be honest about areas that you could improve upon. I won’t lie and say that looks don’t matter at all, they do matter, but the extent is pretty flexible. The good thing is that people are fickle, so people can alter their perceptions about you fairly quickly. The problem with not having good looks is a short-term one in the interaction, as you can get rejected quickly based on that alone. However, your confidence and personality can often keep you in the game long enough which is why you will see guys who aren’t all that attractive physically with hot women. Working on your looks by getting into shape, dressing better, and have good grooming is like building your resume, it will get your foot in the door and sometimes it will get you the job on the spot.
A good way to fight back against negative or suboptimal perceptions about who you are is to push your boundaries and develop new interests. It is hard to pigeonhole or stereotype someone as one thing when he is involved in many different interests. Suddenly, you are no longer just the perception of a nerd or loser, you’re the guy who trains for triathlons, does volunteer work, and goes to parties on the weekends. It’s just like when a comedian tries acting in movies, at first people won’t take him seriously, but once they see that he can act, he becomes an actor and comedian. It shows that you are a well-rounded person and you have much more depth than what people originally assumed about you.
Okay, so what if you make changes to your exterior self and have gone out and tried to be more outgoing, etc. The problem then, in this situation, is that your negative attributes are outweighing the positive ones you possess. Meaning that while you are being yourself, your self kinda sucks to be around at this point. You may be smart, kind, and funny but if you’re also whiney, needy, angry, or whatever other trait that is unattractive then you are still going to get lots of bad reactions. Again, you cannot take it personally, these are just areas in which you need to grow. If you’re really needy, then get to the root cause of that neediness and address it. Same thing with any other bad habit or trait, address the problem, don’t be a little bitch and chalk it up to people just not liking you, that is the type of self-fulfilling attitude that will keep people away from you.
While perceptions can be changed quickly, it isn’t always the case that they will be. Sometimes a certain identity is so ingrained within you and in the minds of other people that it can take a longer period of time. So for instance, a guy in high school who is at the bottom of the ladder may not be able to alter all of the perceptions about him before graduation. However, he can certainly make inroads, at least within his own mind and physical body even if the social aspect of his life is still lagging behind. Ultimately, high school doesn’t mean anything, unless a person identifies with that perception of who they were within that teenage hierarchy. If you’re one of those guys in high school now and you’re reading this, just hang in there. You have to hold yourself up and make positive changes in your life in the face of adversity, bullying, and just general garbage that you put up with daily. I’ve been there too, what I did was to start working on myself. I started with the physical by lifting weights and getting into better shape which led to strengthening myself mentally with books. The external world can be terrible sometimes but that internal strength needs to be harnessed to carry you through towards better times.
Perceptions are kind of ridiculous sometimes but you really can’t take them to heart. I’ve gone to clubs by myself at times and had to work through the initial perception that I was some creep, sometimes it worked and others my mindset did me no favors. I’ve also gone out and had a few girls close to me and having a good time with me, which helped to attract other women. In either case, I’m the exact same person, it’s just that the external society will place a label on you, regardless of its validity. You have the power to rip that label off and be exactly who you are and show off all the great traits that you possess, it just is something that you must accept as a challenge and make a conscious effort to change. Be patient and try to address your weaknesses while not taking the labels personally or too seriously. I’ve been accepted and rejected and everything in between as will you if you push yourself. The question is will you accept the perceptions about you as something set in stone or just mere misunderstandings that need to be corrected.