Don’t let others’ perceptions change how you view yourself

“Get out of the old lady’s way,” the teenaged girl instructed her young companion on the park trail. The younger girl moved aside obediently and I also politely turned to let the old lady pass. I saw no one coming, and realized they meant me. Me! I stopped for a minute to speak to them.

“What you’ve got to know,” I said, “is that on the inside I don’t feel a bit older than you.”

“But on the outside you look really, really old,” she said implacably.

I walked away as briskly as possible, swinging my trekking stick jauntily so it wouldn’t be mistaken for a cane. I muttered “miserable brats” and other helpful character analysis under my breath.

Poet Robert Burns once praised “the gift to see ourselves as others see us.”

I think that’s the dumbest thing I ever heard. If I saw myself as others see me, I’d never have the nerve to leave the house. I want others see me as I see myself. You know, youthful, courageous and modest.

The last thing I need is for someone to see my shortcomings and, worse yet, point them out to me. That spot on my shirt might look like a mayonnaise stain to you, but try to think of it as a fashion statement. That’s what I do.

It’s important to believe in yourself at any age, no matter what the facts say.

Last year when I demonstrated my mini chicken pot pies at the Washington State Fair, my presentation came to an abrupt and potentially tragic end when I mislaid my pot holders. So I used a damp towel to take the pies out of the oven and inadvertently tossed the whole hot container, pies and all, into the audience where they landed on a gentleman’s knee. He was wearing shorts. He was very nice about it, as soon as he was able to stop screaming.

This year I really needed to see myself as a success at the fair, so I chose to show easy Halloween treats such as chocolate cherry mice, which were a great hit. The mice were surprisingly real looking. Their plump little rear ends were made with a maraschino cherry dipped in chocolate. Everyone said “how creative.” That’s how I saw it.

I have friends who take pride in the fact that they don’t own a cellphone. I see myself as technologically savvy so I carry my cellphone all the time. I can’t always answer it though. When it rings, I usually drop it on the floor. I just tell myself to be patient and cope with one thing at a time.

For instance, my youngest son is running in the Twin Cities Marathon on Sunday. I want to let him know I’m proud of him, so I signed up to get messages about his progress on my phone. Then I am supposed to cheer him on digitally. I’m have no idea how to do this of course, but I’m hoping for illumination by 8 a.m. Central Time.

At least, I’ve learned to Tweet and Twitter, and just a little while ago I got an “I love you” text from a great-grandson. I see that as success.

Many years ago, our oldest son was a brand new ensign, serving on a Coast Guard icebreaker. Naturally, his dad and I met the ship when it arrived back in port after a voyage to Antarctica. The Coasties lined the rail, all sporting beards (all men in those days), signifying their months at sea.

But when we found him in the engine room, our boy, just out of his teens, looked as if he’d shaved that morning. “Son, where is your beard,” I asked undiplomatically. “I have one,” he answered coolly, “and my true friends can see it.”

There are times when what we most need is a friend who can see past mere appearances to where our hearts are.

Last week at my book signing, I enjoyed seeing myself as an established author for about 20 minutes. Then, a very tiny lady made her way up to me, leaning heavily on her cane. She peered up into my face, and shook her head incredulously.

“I can’t believe it’s you,” she said. I smiled modestly. “I thought you’d died long ago,” she concluded.

I don’t think so. That’s just not how I see myself.

Dorothy Wilhelm is a professional speaker and writer. Follow Dorothy’s blog at itsnevertoolate.com. Contact her at P.O. Box 881, DuPont WA, 98327. Phone 800-548-9264, email Dorothy@itsnevertoolate. com.