As a child, I heard adults talk about me. They seemed very fond of exaggerating.
Four goals instead of three. All fifty state capitals instead of 44.
They were proud of me, I suppose, and got carried away.
I get it. I do this today. In my life. Probably when describing my child.
It’s as common as mac and cheese.
But back then, hearing these exaggerations, I slowly began to model this behavior.
The message was subconsciously clear: Whatever I had to say might not be enough, so best to bump it up a few notches.
I was exaggerating, I told myself, not outright lying.
And it crept into many areas of my life—-how long it took me to get to work, how many glasses of wine my boss had, how many likes I received for my LinkedIn video, little things on my resume.
It was friggin’ everywhere.
I even noticed that once I had exaggerated enough times, I began to believe exaggerations myself.
And then one day, long ago, I realized what I was doing. I felt some shame. And some guilt.
But the habit was deep.
Scaling back was hard.
And finding support wasn’t easy.
A similarly-wired friend once said: “Do you want the truth or do you want a good story?”
It turns out that a lot of people want a good story.
So one night I did it—I spoke the absolute truth and nothing else.
As you might suspect, the less dramatic my details, the less people listened. Initially, this made me feel pretty uncomfortable.
My “small” self didn’t like it one bit. Why? Because I want people to keep looking at me and laugh at my stories.
I want them to smile knowingly at my opinions, to be touched by my accidental poetry.
I want to be that person.
If I can keep them engaged, I am enough. If they love me, I am enough. If they say so, I am enough.
But I knew I was in trouble. Because not only does exaggerating keep you dependent on others for your self-esteem, it can ruin your credibility. With friends. With parents. With managers.
With the world.
Mostly, it’s just icky to exaggerate, because it’s lying.
No, really. It is the same thing.
So hear this: You are enough! Personally. Professionally. In the park. At your desk. On the slopes. In front of your kids. On the dance floor. In the mirror.
(Deflecting this compliment? You’re not alone.)
And if you think you might be an exaggerator, you can quit. And find more self-love in the process.
It’s like cigarettes or coffee or kale—you just have to get curious, start noticing and become self-aware.
1) Look Around. Check out your resume, your profile, your bio, your elevator speech. Is it the absolute truth? If not, why not?
2) Listen. Become more aware every time you speak. Is it the truth? The actual truth? If not, why not?
3) Experiment. Try being incredibly honest in your next small talk encounter. You’ll likely have less to say. And that’s okay.
4) Reflect. Write down your experiences somewhere. Tweet. Blog. Shout.
5) Work on It. Chip away at change. Don’t get discouraged.
Just remember that authenticity trumps attention. Any day.
Author: Andrea Enright
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier at Flickr