A Sweep of Vanity: How To Burst Your Own Bubble
by: Maya Talisman Frost
"Hoy-day! What a sweep of vanity comes this way!" --William Shakespeare, "The Life of Timon of Athens"
If there's one characteristic we hope we don't have, it's vanity. We'd rather be considered aggressive, driven, petty, even mean than have others feel that we think too much of ourselves.
Isn't that hilarious?
We're all vain. The world appears to revolve around us because we literally can't see it any other way. Our reality is constructed entirely of our perceptions of how everyone and everything responds to us. It's impossible to remove ourselves from the center of our own universe.
That's our starting point, anyway. We want to veer toward selflessness, but no matter how hard we try, we remain rooted to the idea that how others see us really matters.
Oh, sure, we can pretend we're beyond that. We can say that we don't give a hoot about what others think of us. But even that is a bit of a conundrum--it's more likely that we care that others think we don't care what they think! See what I mean?
"Vanity is so secure in the heart of men that everyone wants to be admired; even I who write this, and you who read this." Blaise Pascal, French mathematician & writer
It certainly doesn't escape me that it takes a hefty amount of vanity to think that others will be interested in reading what I write. I struggle with the concept of vanity on several levels--as a 43-year-old woman in America trying to deal with aging and the expectations of our society, as a writer sending out articles every week, as a mind masseuse helping clients. That's all about me when you get down to it. Plenty of vanity in this picture.
Like most people, I want to do good work, and I want to feel validated by others for that work. Is that so wrong?
Well, no. We all engage in activities throughout the day for our own benefit, and we hope that what we do will end up helping other people. Confidence and self- interest are essential in any work and in all service to others. Pride can move us toward having a more powerful and positive impact on the world.
How do we keep vanity in check?
"The only cure for vanity is laughter, and the only fault that's laughable is vanity." Henri Bergon, French philosopher and Nobel prize winner
That's right. Laugh! The most important step you can take to make sure you aren't headed down that vanity path is to recognize that you ARE. And the greatest way to spin around and head toward humility is to laugh at yourself.
There's plenty to laugh about. What makes you care so much about how you look to others, anyway? Isn't it silly how much time and effort you put into making a good impression? Isn't it hilarious to recognize that everybody else is earnestly working to make a good impression, too? What if we all just relaxed and had a big belly laugh over how ridiculous we are? We'd get more done, and we'd have more fun doing it.
We take ourselves far too seriously. We should seize every opportunity to poke fun at our affectations. When we break down that facade we've so carefully crafted, we invite everyone else to join us. It's the most effective way to connect with others and encourage a more lighthearted focus on what's really important.
One way to stay real about yourself is to intentionally select a goofy title. Forget the traditional chief-of- operations, vice-president-of-marketing, sales-division- manager options. I choose to call myself a "mind masseuse" because it sounds silly. The image of someone poking their fingers into your brain is wacky. It makes people smile. (Okay, so it's vain to care about what others think. At least I can laugh about it!)
My husband owns his own business. Most people would refer to him as a CEO or president. Not him. He orchestrates the distribution of Bodylinx magnetic jewelry, so he refers to himself as a "magnetic conductor". He adds this title to every email and letter he sends, and people appreciate his humorous approach.
Why not have a little fun with your description of your work? Fancy titles are laughable in their vanity. Even if your work requires you to maintain a certain level of decorum, come up with your own title for yourself that makes you smile. It'll keep you from getting too puffed up.
"A man who is not a fool can rid himself of every folly except vanity." Jean Jacques Rousseau, another French philosopher
Next time you find yourself studiously protecting your image, just grin. You're human. Vanity is a natural tendency, and one you're bound to hang on to despite your best efforts. Recognize it, laugh at it, and don't be shy about sharing that realization with others.
It will make you a more excellent human where it matters most--in the eyes of those you love.
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