Has anyone ever told you that even they’ve known you for a long time they still don’t feel like they know the real you? Has it come from someone you’re close to?
It sucks, doesn’t it?
Do you know people without really knowing them? Have you known anyone for a long time, even spent time with them, but never felt you knew the real them?
It doesn’t feel good, at least not to me. Not knowing people means being unable to open up, having less support when you need it, knowing less about the world. It makes it harder to meet new people and get to know them too.
A major wakeup came for me when three unrelated people told me they knew me for a long time without knowing the real me in the span of a few months about ten years ago. One person saying it could mean something about them or your connection with them. Two people might raise your eyebrow. With three, the common element is yourself. Something was wrong with how I developed relationships. Something important in my life was lacking and holding me back.
I examined how I developed relationships, found something to change, and did it. It felt difficult, though looking back, I wish I had done it earlier. To someone without my inhibitions it might seem trivial. To those with similar problems, I hope it helps you change as I did.
The problem: Protecting myself too much
I believed that a relationship naturally progressed like this:
- Get to know them
- If friendship develops, open up and share more.
This progression seemed natural and normal. Now I see I was protecting myself. I would let the getting to know stage last forever, never transitioning to the friendship.
What does opening up mean? It means sharing vulnerabilities. Not opening up means protecting yourself, which is hard if you haven’t done it. I never thought to wonder how a
The solution: Open up first to create the friendship
I tried an experiment that ended up working out. Instead of waiting for a friendship to develop I decided to open up first:
- Open up and share
- If they don’t like me, accept that we don’t become friends.
- If they like me, become friends based on deeper connections.
The phrase “I’d rather be rejected for who I am than accepted for who I’m not” entered my belief system. I recognized a lot more people would reject me, and they would reject me for me, not a polite cocktail party facade acceptable to everyone but in no way unique.
The challenge came in sharing parts of myself with people I didn’t know that well. I feared their judgment, embarrassment, shame, and so on. I remember times with people I’d recently met, choosing to sharing previously hidden parts of myself. Would they laugh at me? Walk away? Make fun of me?
The results: Success
I remember a specific time with someone I’d met recently. I wanted to share something about myself I hadn’t. The details aren’t important. You have things important to you that you hide that you can put in the story for yourself. Before I shared, my palms get sweaty, my heart beat faster, I couldn’t think about anything else. Then I shared my story.
The result? No big deal! A non-response. The conversation continued as if I had said I like traveling. I couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome. The person knew something important about me and I didn’t suffer at all. It enabled me to do the same more.
I also learned people
- Tend to be too busy thinking about themselves to bother judging you
- Have seen so much that, whatever your thing, it’s probably no big deal to them.
As much as these realizations knock down your importance and remove you from the center of the world, they liberate you from fear, shame, and other inhibitions to express yourself and act comfortably.
You make more, deeper, and closer friendships that way.
If you answered yes to any of the questions at the top of this post and the pattern I used to have applies to you, I recommend trying to open up first. It’s not easy, but it’s rewarding.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book