This week, one of my clients told me that when she goes in for a job interview, often they look at her as if they are surprised at her age. She, like many people I coach, is afraid that she is too old to be offered the kind of work she wants. I said, “how can you tell?” She said, “It is just the way they look at me. I can tell.”
The same day, another client said to me, “sometimes when I speak up in meetings, I say the wrong thing.” “How do you know?” She said, “I can tell by their reaction.” “What is their reaction?” “They look at me funny and they move on with the conversation.”
From the outside, it is easy to say, “the look?” Can you really tell by the look? But you know and I know what it is like to see and interpret a person’s affect and reactions in a particular way. We’ve probably all had this experience.
What makes you think “the look” means one thing and not another?
Answer: most people, in most circumstances interpret others based on their own fears. If I am afraid I am too old, I will look for evidence that I am too old. If I believe I don’t make sense when I speak up, I will not speak up. And when I get the courage to speak, there is a good chance I will find a way to confirm my fears. Even if just by a look and a lack of comment on what I just said.
There are obviously some problems with this.
First, it is a dejecting way to live. If you leave the meeting thinking you are “too old” or your ideas are “not valid,” that will certainly impinge upon your self-confidence.
But also, most people don’t question “the look.” They don’t stop to ask what a coach will ask you: what evidence do you have that this is what they were thinking? And so we believe that we are too old, not smart, not contributing. And we act as if that is true. And the more you act like your fear is true, the more it becomes true, as you stop applying for certain jobs because you know people think you are too old; or you stop speaking up because you know you are not contributing.
How to interrupt the pattern:
Notice it. Our brains work very fast. We make assumptions quickly and we believe them as if they were true. Question your assumptions. Ask yourself (or have someone else ask you), “how do you know that is actually true?”
Change the lens through which you see the world by examining it.