Becoming a Renaissance Man, Part 5

Earlier installments in this series can be found here:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Let’s get down to it.

Understand and Merge Your Three Faces. This is one of those great insights that I read in a book at some point growing up, but for the life of me I can’t remember what the book was anymore. If anyone recognizes who originated this idea, let me know.

But the basic concept is, there are three “faces:”

  1. The face of the person you see when you see yourself.
  2. The face of the person you try to present to others
  3. The face of the person that other people actually perceive when they see you

Based on that basic concept of three faces, I took it further and came up with the following observations.

People who are strong, charismatic, successful, confident and contented tend to understand and merge their “faces.” They try to manage and know their faces as thoroughly as possible and keep very similar, always fighting to keep them from drifting apart. They present themselves to others as they see themselves. And other people tend to also perceive them as they perceive themselves. It creates an exciting and fluid interaction. It inspires confidence. It’s automatically addicting once you’re around it.

People who are weak, uncharismatic, fractured, neurotic, self-pitying and miserable tend to have big gaps between their “faces” [“face-gaps”]. Here are some examples of “face gaps.”

(1) Let’s say a person sees themselves a certain way. We’ll call this face “A.” (2) He deliberately tries to present a different face to the world. We’ll call this face “B.” There is a face gap between how he sees himself (“A”) and what how he presents himself (“B”). Now (3) the final component is how other people see him. If he’s terribly transparent, some people will see him as he sees himself, face “A,” even though he is trying to present face “B” to the world. This would be an “A-B-A” face transaction. If the guy is a very good faker, others may actually believe the face he is trying to present to the world, face “B.” This would be an “A-B-B” transaction. If he’s totally socially inept or poor at image management, other people might see a totally different face altogether, face “C,” which is neither face “A,” how he sees himself, nor is it face “B,” which is how he tries to present himself to the world. He’s managed to give off an unrelated third impression instead. This would be an “A-B-C” face transaction, which is the worst of the lot. Many people who tend to view themselves one way and try desperately to present themselves another way suffer from a face gap that leads to what is called “impostor syndrome.

The Impostor Syndrome, sometimes called Impostor Phenomenon or Fraud Syndrome, is a syndrome where sufferers are unable to internalize their accomplishments. It is not an officially recognized psychological disorder but has been the subject of numerous books and articles by psychologists and educators.

Regardless of what level of success they may have achieved in their chosen field of work or study or what external proof they may have of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced internally they do not deserve the success they have achieved and are actually frauds. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they were more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.

There is a phrase that says “fake it ’til you make it.” People who follow this advice choose to willingly create this face gap between how they see themselves and how they present themselves to others. It works for some people but fails for others, even driving some mad. Why the different results? Because when you’re faking it until you make it, the end goal should be to eventually make both faces merge. After presenting yourself a certain way for long enough, you eventually start seeing yourself that way as well. The face gap you create when faking it til you make it should be a means to an end, and that end is the eventual elimination of said face gap as you begin to genuinely see yourself as the person you present to others. People on the other hand who live indefinitely with this face gap between how they view themselves and how they present themselves to others end up over a long enough time neurotic, sneaky, paranoid, distrustful, miserable and constantly afraid of being discovered as a fraud. I believe this is what, among other things, happened to Michael Jackson.

Another common face gap problem is when (1) a person sees themselves one way (face “A”), (2) tries hard to present this face to others (again face “A”), but (3) what actually gets communicated to others is something totally different (face “B”). This would be an “A-A-B” face transaction. Many people who consider themselves great people yet still are unlucky in love and friendship usually suffer from this form of face transaction. They consider themselves awesome people, try to show people how awesome they are, but something gets lost in translation somewhere for whatever reason. Maybe they get too nervous and mess up and come off creepy instead. Maybe they try to hard and come off too insecure and eager to please. Maybe their body language and fashion sense are conflicting. People who suffer from these types of face gaps are usually socially frustrated.

There are tons of combinations of face gaps and face-transaction scenarios, and it would take too long to create an exhaustive list. I just wanted to give examples of the concept, and I hope I was able to make it clear.

The most inspiring and mentally tough people tend to be the people who first understand their three faces, then work to merge them.

Some people for example either don’t realize how they view themselves, don’t realize how they present themselves to others, or don’t realize how others actually perceive them when interacting with them. Or worse, some people are guilty of being ignorant of all three faces at once. One guy thinks he’s hilarious and is unaware of how painfully unfunny he actually is to others. Or he may think he gives off a loveable bad boy persona when he’s actually coming off as an unlikeable dick with no social skills. Or a girl may think she is way hotter and bringing way more to the table than she actually is. I’m sure you get the picture. Understanding your three faces requires brutal honesty with yourself. Another great way is to get a self-improvement buddy, a friend or group of friends who will be brutally honest with constructive criticism. Everyone beforehand promise not to take anything personal, and all criticism should be constructive and useful. It’s not enough to criticize each other, you also have to inform each other what your respective strengths are so that you can lead with them.

Once you get an idea of the state of your three faces and are operating under no illusions, you need to start working toward merging them and eliminating gaps. The goal is to achieve “A-A-A” transactional state. To illustrate the merge using an example. Say (1) a guy thinks he’s funny as hell and filled with great stories (“A”). He (2) goes out trying to showcase his self-perceived funniness by telling jokes and stories at social gatherings, and thinks he’s killing it (“A,” consistent so far). But (3) he’s actually coming off to others as long-winded, unfunny, and oafish (“B”). To accomplish a merge, he has several options. After properly assessing the state of his three faces, he can proceed to find out what his strengths are. Say he discovers his strength is being a good listener, talking less and sharing good life lessons. He (1) starts seeing himself as that type of guy instead of as the life of the party (“A”). He (2) conveys himself as such (again, “A”). And (3) other people also start perceiving him as that guy because that persona plays better to his natural strengths (Again, “A”). A-A-A. Or alternatively, rather than change how he sees himself, he can choose to still see himself as funny and instead focus on working on changing how he presents that persona to others by learning how to actually convey humor well. He can study funny people and take notes on what they do, get honest feedback from others on how he can improve his humor and what his sticking points are and practice, practice, practice until he reaches the point where (1) he still sees himself as funny (“A”), (2) he’s still trying to convey himself as funny to others, but is now much better at it because of the work he’s put into it (again, “A”) and (3) people genuinely see him as being as funny as he sees himself and wants others to view him (again, “A,” hat trick).

Another thing to keep in mind is the internet. The internet can really create some horrible face gaps. Compare who you’re selling on your Myspace, or Facebook profile to who you believe you are. I’m especially aware of this as a blogger, as I struggle with who I am, what I’m trying to present myself as with this blog and what actually comes across to people reading. With all the technology, photoshop programs, online questionnaires and info manipulation out there, it’s incredibly hard not to experiment with how you present yourself to others and veer from the truth. And with all the instant feedback and limitless potential exposure, how can you not become insane about how others perceive you once you do open yourself up online? When messing with the internet, be very aware of how it’s affecting your three faces.

It’s more of a neverending struggle than a true end goal you can simply achieve once and for all, as daily life and new experiences constantly work to change our various faces and cause them to grow apart. It requires constant and brutally honest self-assessment to understand the state of your faces, and it requires the vigilance and self-discipline to keep them aligned when they start to drift apart. But it’s worth it.

7 Responses to “Becoming a Renaissance Man, Part 5”

  1. I think the toughest one is face 3. Many a times, it is really difficult to understand what others think about you.

  2. What I find fascinating about this whole thing is how it always ends up circling back on itself: once you figure out how other people perceive you, you can’t help that influencing how you view yourself. The extent to which this happens is, of course, dependent on a lot of different things (maturity, self-confidence, character).

    And you’re very right about the Internet as a medium making it all just that much more complicated.

  3. This is really important to accomplish, as fear of how others perceive you can really undermine your confidence and individuality. I’ve been surprised in embracing this in my own life that others tend to respect your opinions when you are consistent, even where they disagree with you. Fear not the disapproval of others, it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

  4. For face-merging exercises I recommend Nathaniel Branden’s books.

  5. T:

    this post knocked me on my head. thank you.

  6. I like the idea of this, but we all see ourselves as a mixture of good and bad stuff. Like I think I’m funny but I’m also a gossiper. I certainly don’t TRY to present myself as a gossiper, I try to suppress that, so I am A – B. But to be consistent, should I try to present myself as a gossiper so I am A-A?

    I guess I just practice not gossiping. But I’ve got so many other flaws it’s like, jeepers, this is a process not a goal!

    Maybe, like Laura suggested, if I knew what others thought of me, I would change the way I perceived myself so maybe finding that out is the most important.

    (also, I could write pages about how I perceive myself)

    Thanks, it’s thought provoking.

  7. One other issue with the FB etc social media phenomenon is that it encourages you to present an edited beautified version of who you want to be to the world. It encourages a cultural narcissism that is rather startling in its scope.

    Also, for people that spend all their time trying to control and present a face to others that they don’t feel is a true face, to the extent they are successful they feel contempt combined with sadness and permanent alienation for those that they have fooled. They know they can never trust those people with the truth about them because they are so easily fooled. The Micheal Jackson example fits here as well.