If I knew then what I know now about intent, it’s entirely possible I could have avoided sounding like a major @sshole early on in my career.
It was the first week of my dream job at CBS, and I can remember sitting at a big conference table surrounded by seemingly intelligent people who would toss around acronyms and industry buzzwords with the finesse of champion tennis players. Even though I had no clue what they were saying at the time, I came away feeling intimidated. “Wow, these people are so smart,” I thought to myself, as I headed back to my office to try and figure out what the hell they were talking about.
Determined to show my new colleagues how smart I was too, at the next meeting I spewed out a few acronyms and buzzwords of my own without really understanding what they meant, then watched as my feeble attempt at participation died of its own weight.
Later that evening, at the pity party I was having during my therapy session, my shrink introduced me to the notion of speaking to express, rather than impress, especially whenever I felt pressured to act out of insecurity. As my mind began to process this intriguing new concept, I could see how taking a moment to examine my intentions before shooting my mouth off was, in fact, a whole lot smarter than blindly trying to impress people; and if I waited to speak until I actually had something meaningful to contribute, people might come away thinking about the message … not the messenger.
Suddenly it seemed as though a giant burden had been lifted. I felt lighter, brighter, confident…hopeful. I could imagine integrating this new insight into my life and making it my own. It was so exciting because I knew that I could do this!
Soon, my newfound understanding began to act as a bullshit filter, and I could see through people’s motives as though I had x-ray vision. One time, I was packed in the elevator with a bunch of suits who were carrying on one of the most inane, stilted conversations I had ever heard. It felt as though they were trying to impress someone—and I knew it wasn’t me–so I did a scan and discovered CBS’s founder, William Paley, tucked into the back corner looking unimpressed; and no wonder, here were these grown men, all executives in his organization, knowing he was there, but posturing and carrying on as though he wasn’t. “So that’s what it looks like,” I thought, vowing to try to stop myself before going down that same dead-end road.
Wish I could report that, over the years, I was able to commit my insight to muscle memory and managed to avoid my own ‘assholean’ behavior altogether; but such is not the case. To this day, whenever I’m feeling intimidated or insecure, my first reaction is the need to impress people. I want them to think I’m smart or cool, or funny, or compassionate…whatever, it really doesn’t matter. Happily, though, more often than not I’m able to stop and ask myself, “Are you trying to express or impress?” much like I did in writing this column.