My phone was in my hand, WhatsApp open, ready to message my newest friends and acquaintances out of the blue to ask them what they think of me.
It felt uncomfortable. Self-involved.
“What are they going to think of me?”
But I guess that’s kind of the point.
So I pressed send. And I waited for the results of my “mirror-straightening” experiment.
It’s Not Only What’s On the Inside that Counts
The logic that led me down the path to my “mirror-straightening” experiment was this:
The more how you see yourself is consistent with how others see you, the easier your life is.
Because inconsistencies cause friction.
It’s like marketing the Nissan Cube:
Nissan’s marketers may like to think their Cube is a practical, spacious, innovative design for forward-thinking families. But if that target market sees it as an awkward-looking and frumpy vehicle for middle-aged spinsters with too many cats, they will blow a lot of marketing resources.
Better to understand how the world really sees you, then either:
- Work with this perception rather than against it.
- Adapt your behavior to be perceived the way you want.
Seeing the truth in how others see you may lead to some rude awakenings. But better to be awake than asleep.
There’d be pleasant surprises, too—positives that others see in you that you don’t see in yourself. Those are helpful to know for your confidence and for making better use of.
A Simple Exercise
How can you compare how you see yourself to how others see you?
My friend Tomas gave me an idea. He’d done it at some personal branding retreat in Bali:
- Describe yourself in five words.
- Ask a bunch of people to anonymously share five words they think describe you.
- Consolidate those answers and contrast with yours.
As it happened, I had the perfect excuse to push myself to try it: I was about to lead a group of 180 people through my first-ever Advent-ure Calendar, in which I revealed a surprise comfort-zone-jolting challenge every day from December 1 through 24. I was participating, too. This exercise Tomas shared with me could be one of the twenty-four challenges!
So I scheduled it for December 10.
My Mirror-Straightening Experience
Here are the six steps I followed.
1. Write down five words that you think best describe yourself.
2. Think of five (or more) people to survey.
I asked a dozen newer friends of mine to have a slightly larger sample size.
These people know me well enough to have developed their own image of who I am. And they’ve gotten to know me recently, so their impressions may be fresher than if I were to ask old friends, family members, or Kim.
3. Send the survey.
I created a simple Google Form to solicit and collect input:
And I sent it along with this message:
“Hey! I’ve been challenged to survey people who know me by asking them to anonymously share 5 adjectives that describe me. The idea is to compare how others see me to how I see myself. Can you please help me? Whatever 5 words come to your mind first. Thank you!”
I pushed past my discomfort and sent out my requests thanks to:
- Curiosity. My desire to know my friends’ answers was stronger than my discomfort in asking.
- Rationality. What was I scared of? That my friends would look down on me for asking this of them? Inconveniencing them? Nah. It was a simple request. I’d be happy and honored to have a friend ask it of me. Anyone who would think less of me for it is someone I don’t want to have as a friend.
4. Wait a few days.
I wanted to give the procrastinators ample time. And I didn’t want to ruin the anonymity by regularly checking for responses and cross-referencing those with when my friends messaged me back to say, “Done!”
Eventually, eleven people filled out the form.
These were my friends’ descriptions of me:
To make it a bit easier to process, I copy-pasted all these adjectives into a single column, sorted them in alphabetical order, and grouped together synonymous answers—e.g. “Gritty” and “Determined”; “Weird,” “Unconventional,” and “Quirky.” (It helps to ask ChatGPT to group the adjectives, too.)
6. Compare how you see yourself to how others see you.
6.a. Did others use your words?
In my case:
|How I See Myself
|Similar Words Others Used
|Modest (2x), Hesitant
|Robotic, Determined, Reliable
|Independent, Unconventional, Quirky, Weird
|Easy-going, Relaxed, Positive
|Analytical (2x), Well-calculated, Level-headed
So it seems I’m not terribly deluded. I don’t see myself in any way that nobody else sees me.
But I am somewhat surprised that more friends didn’t use adjectives related to my reserved, introverted nature—or at least what I thought was my nature!
6.b. Did any themes in others’ descriptions of you surprise you?
What caught me most off guard were descriptions like “Supportive,” “Caring,” and “Good Listener” (two times!).
Earlier in the year, when I studied the science of personality and took Five Factor assessments, I disagreed with my surprisingly high agreeableness scores. Maybe I’m more agreeable than I think!
This flipped a little switch in me. I believe it. And as a result, I’m behaving like it even more than ever. So I wouldn’t be surprised if I do this exercise in a few years with another batch of new friends and get even more adjectives along these lines.
The other description I was surprised to get was “creative.” Five people called me that, more than I got “rational.” Maybe I don’t give myself enough credit for my creativity, and hold myself back by focusing too much on my rationality. And maybe if I embrace my creativity, I can enjoy more of it!
I Challenge You to Try
This mirror-straightening exercise was certainly worth the discomfort of surveying my friends. Their feedback shifted how I see myself, which will shift my behavior. Time will tell if my logic is correct that, “The more how you see yourself is consistent with how others see you, the easier your life is.”
Why not try it yourself?