November 1, 2016

Playing the Part




Several years ago I sought the advice of a woman who was so very together. Quick-witted, sharp, successful, and gorgeous, she was hard-working and well-respected. Somehow, she was the sort of person who managed to work late, cook elaborate dinners, start book clubs, organize happy hours, try all the coolest workout classes, and, I don't know, probably save lives in her spare time. In any case, she was damn impressive. Meanwhile, I was 23, regularly eating cereal for dinner, and feeling not at all like an adult. I was an adult-in-training, and I wanted step-by-step, detailed instructions.

"How do you do it?" I asked her. "Seriously. What do your days look like?"

When she replied, I expected her to be overly humble or dismissive, but she wasn't. Instead, she laughed and shared her tricks. And that was part of it, I realized: She was awesome, she knew she was awesome, and even better, she knew it was okay to know she was awesome.

"I pretend to be the person I wish she was," she said. "I act like a better version of me."

I was confused. "But isn't that still just you being you?"

She nodded. "The lines blur." 

It basically starts as an act, she told me, like you're playing the part of your fantasy self. You dress the part, act the part, and before you know it, the habits are yours, and you're you, only better. 

That all sounded great, in an abstract sort of way, but I demanded specifics. What did she do?

Well, to start, she asked herself the same question, day after day, again and again: "Do I want to be the kind of person who [blank]?" And then came the second part, the harder part. She promised herself that 90% of the time, she'd let her answer to that question guide her. Almost every time, if the answer was yes, then she'd do it. And, of course, if it was no, then she wouldn't.

In other words, it was really, really simple, and also really, really hard.

I'd like to say that I quickly took her words to heart and shifted gears, but I didn't. Not completely, anyway. I did ask the question, though, and I learned a lot from my answers. I figured out, moment by moment, in a series of situations, what sort of person I wanted to be. And sometimes, on good days, I'd mostly be that person. Or, at least, more like that person. And that feels like enough.

Since then, I've watched her climb higher and higher, personally and professionally, toward her best self. And she's made me a believer in the fake-it-'til-you-make-it philosophy. I think it's okay, every once in a while, to let things change from the outside in. Sometimes, it's your best bet.



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