To some degree, everyone straddles multiple worlds. We have our personal world. We have our work world. Never the two should meet – except for the Christmas party and company picnic. However, most of us find ourselves walking between more than just two worlds. On the personal side, we have our childhood friends. There are our college friends. There are our church friends. There are the neighborhood friends. Mixing of these friends is strangely rare. The college friends and the church friends just wouldn’t get along, we tell ourselves. They wouldn’t have anything in common.
Too many people find their work worlds filled with the sterile, hospital-cafeteria-type conversations. No one wants to get personal. No one wants to get too aware of the coworker who is struggling with divorce or addiction. Those aren’t the polite conversations about the weekend that are sanctioned in the corporate world. The correct answer to “How are you?” is always “Fine.” We aren’t expected to share our whole selves. We’re expected to keep our professional world separate from our personal world.
Facets of Identity
Somehow, we’re expected to keep our wholeness separate. We’re expect to expose one facet of who we are to our church friends and a different facet to our drinking buddies. Even absent the explicit call to be fragmented, we’re conditioned to expect that people don’t really want to know about our struggles and our pride. How many jokes are there about how everyone’s grandchild is the most amazing child in the universe?
As a result, we keep the part of us that matches others positioned towards them, like how sunflowers position themselves towards sunlight. We are careful to not let them see parts of us that don’t fit the idealistic view of the parts they’re interested in.
However, the careful positioning in relationship to those we are near creates a gap. It takes the parts of our personality – the very growth that we crave and need – and makes it unacceptable to share with others. Because it’s precious and fragile, we can’t afford the risk to show it to anyone. We can’t share it with those that we trust, because it doesn’t match the part of us that they expect.
So we starve the sunlight from the places of our growth, because we can’t share it with those we trust, and simultaneously it’s too fragile to share with those we don’t trust.
They Don’t Know Me
All this leads us to the position that no one really knows us. We’re always positioning the image of ourselves to the people that we’re with, and we don’t get a chance to share our vulnerable parts. It leads to a profound sense of disconnection. We don’t believe that anyone understands us – and that’s the truth, because we’ve never allowed anyone to see an accurate picture of our real selves – including our blemishes, weakness, and flaws.
Stranger in a Foreign Land
Even if we can get past the need to show people only what they want to see, we’re forced to realize that, in our contemporary world, our interests and the interests of the others we interact with – including family, friends, and acquaintances – isn’t going to match completely. Even if we’re able to share the places of ourselves that are growing, it may not be that those people are interested in that part of us. They may not can help us to grow in that aspect of our reality.
It’s like that part of us is a foreigner in a strange land where they speak a different language. There’s no way to connect and communicate.
Perhaps the most challenging concern that any human faces is that their different worlds and interests will diverge to the point where they’re no longer able to keep themselves whole. For me, I know that I’m a father, husband, developer, technologist, speaker, organizational development advocate, psychology and neurology student, and the list continues. There are times when these worlds fit together like a continent with different temperate climates. There are other times when I feel like the gaps between them place me on a twister mat, where the dots drift farther and farther apart, making it harder for me to stay up.
Living and Letting Go
The trick to living in a world where we’re straddling these multiple worlds is that we need to learn when to let go of aspects of ourselves – at least for a while. We need to accept that, for a time, these parts of our soul will be separate from us. For me, there are several aspects that are missing from the core of who I am today. I’m a professionally-trained comedian – yet I don’t practice either stand up or improv comedy. I’m a pilot who loves flying but can’t find the time and money to stay current. These are just two small parts of my world that I’ve let go of for now. I’ve picked my hand up off the twister dot and have let it drift off – for now.
Sometimes the aspects that you let go of are done consciously, and sometimes it’s just an aspect of yourself that gets lost for a while. Sometimes we fight to hold on to more of our true selves than we can realistically contain at any one time. That’s when we can really feel the pain of straddling multiple worlds. The secret, if there is one, is to know that letting worlds go for a while doesn’t mean that they leave your core forever.