People see you, and yet they don’t. Instead of looking your way, they are looking way past you.
Someone asks you a question, but oddly doesn’t tune in to your response. They make polite conversation with no intent to go beyond scratching the surface. They nod, they linger a little, but they neither see nor understand you even when you’re right there.
Have you ever felt that? The taste of dismissal and a strange feeling of anonymity when people deliberately or inadvertently brush you off? When someone casts judgment on you without first getting to know you? Despite the somewhat mitigating effect of good manners, other people’s dismissal is subliminal. As a trained journalist and marketer, I am more keenly tuned in to body language, tone, and the way with which my message’s receiver is responding to me and my message. It is a skill that can seldom be a curse.
No matter where you’re from, be it from a place of professional success, privilege, and certainty, something can happen that will displace you and will challenge your sense of self. You will come across people who think way less of you than you think of yourself. It may happen circumstantially: from a life change, a career change, an overseas move, an interaction with new people, among others. We all feel a bit of insecurity once in a while, or to some, more often than that.
“One day, it will be you.” I am in the thick of it right now. Taking a 180-degree turn from my old career, going back to a postgraduate program, recovering my senses after postpartum exhaustion, just getting my life back while balancing new motherhood and seeking to renew my professional esteem: I don’t know if you grasp the full impact of these life changes happening at once but I have found that they cannot be taken lightly.
“You don’t let people dismiss you. You don’t stand there at the receiving end of dismissal and not say anything. You put people in their place by letting them know who you are.” A voice inside me rages.
Right. The ferociousness with which my old self would have attacked a situation where I am feeling belittled would have been so different. Go soft or go strong? It would always be the latter. (My husband knows this a little too well.)
Presently, I am half-ashamed to say that in many interactions with people who erroneously think they already know me, I let things like this go softly. I keep my mouth closed, take a deep mindful breath and remind myself to remain in a positive space. My energy is needed for larger things.
Oh, all the thoughts and words I keep locked in!
I think of all the wonderful people who made big and bold changes in their lives. I think of people who move countries, change careers, face racial and gender biases, experience discrimination in one little way or another on a daily basis. I think of all these people and how they rise above it all. I think of them to draw strength from, and I reflect on the value of grace.
Grace is in gently rising above ugly situations with your sense of self still intact. Grace is in being bigger than silly confrontations and pointless power struggles. Grace is when you know mansplaining and cattiness when they are happening and you can choose to be quiet with a peaceful and knowing gleam in your eye. Grace is in taking other people’s dismissive (or fine, crappy) treatment and choosing to exhale the negativity than spurt out words that sink to their level of low. Grace is in peacefully knowing who you are, and who you choose not to become.
Lately, I am working harder at embracing this thought: being underestimated is a gift. Being overlooked is like a door opening for you so you can enter with courage and an emboldened will to do better. Invisibility presents an opportunity to work harder at the sidelines and to come out with a surprise. Instead of spiraling down in indignant hurt or fading into oblivion, the easy way out, there is something about developing a chip on your shoulder that can be used to your advantage. I insist on framing things this way. I acknowledge that I need to strategically show my strengths but this is not achieved in manipulating conversations so it revolves entirely around me. There is work to be done, and I take cognizance of the fact that every challenge I ever faced made me a better person.
Also, I find comfort in knowing all too well that permanence does not exist. I am riding the waves of change and it is exhilarating, to say the least. When things are calmer, and I am where I know I should be, I will not forget every less-than-pleasant moment and remember how grace helped me.
I know with certainty that things will get better. I am planning, working hard, and being quietly graceful while at it. At this moment as I write this, I am deeply thankful for this peaceful state of mind.
If you are in the same space as I am, with a bit more or less agitation, sadness, infuriation, or more, I am there with you. I feel you. Keep your head above the mud: things always get better. If you’ve been here before and have wisdom to share, I am happy to hear from you.