“Perception is reality.” This is the golden rule of business marketing, which I heard repeatedly in my college business courses. While I have always held an aversion to the idea of the manipulating anyone’s reality for business purposes, I feel like this perception/reality concept is much more interesting and pertinent in my personal life, and I have been reflecting on it lately.
I was talking about relationships with a client this week, and I found her vocabulary interesting. She referred to herself as “unmarried” (instead of “divorced”); instead of saying “ex-husband,” she said “my children’s father”. At first, I thought she was avoiding reality, or demonstrating some hip, progressive vocabulary. For a couple days afterwards, I thought about these unusual labels, and it eventually dawned on me this woman was not trying to evade judgment for getting divorced, but simply use vocabulary that framed her world in a way she found helpful and positive. I am so used to thinking about divorce as a failure, I have difficulty reframing it; my client was shifting the perception, and identifying things for what they are rather than what they are not. Genius. Talking about your ex-husband emphasizes the end of a significant relationship, and neglects the role this person continues to have in your life. As I look at my own life, I think about people and experiences that have shaped my personality. If I focus on how my life is lacking these things it creates a lot of regret, but if I shift my perception to focus on the gifts and lessons I still carry, it allows me to celebrate what is.
Looking at what all this means for me today, having sat indoors watching it rain for the past couple days, I see feeling content has everything to do with the “marketing” I do in my own mind. Being someone who finds contentment in outdoor accomplishments, a rainy day can be a challenging exercise in changing my perception. With no climbing, biking, or canyon ambitions, I feel anxious. I see I am validated by doing things. Whether it is creating something, spending time with people, or even writing this blog, I feel good when I have a list of things accomplished each day. Why is my happiness based on things outside myself? I would love to feel my potential realized in just being, to find a place of completeness regardless of what I accomplish.
I share this reflection not to assert I am finding a better way, but more to point out sometimes (usually?) we create our own suffering. I’ll probably always be compelled to do things and I’ll likely always derive value out of accomplishments, but I can consciously adjust my thoughts in times like these, when I am not out doing what I want. It’s the same when I am injured, or have to do a lot of work on the computer. My temporary state of activity doesn’t change who I am. When I focus on who I am rather than where I am or what I am not doing, I feel better about the present and less anxious about where I am going. Compared to Buddhist monks devoting their lives to meditation, I may need more than a couple rainy days to find the middle path and move beyond my striving and suffering, but I’m taking it one day at a time.