We are taught to impress at such a young age.
As a child, did your parents nudge you to share how you got good grades on your report card? For me, it wasn’t just with my grandparents, but even the random cashier at the grocery store.
In school, were you the type of student who proudly let your teacher know whenever finished your worksheet first? I was! Everything was a competition. Always.
Even today, are you inclined to tell your friends and family your highs, but keep the lows to yourself? Who wants to share about the depression they’re experiencing, or the romantic encounter they feel ashamed about, right?
But nearly everyone I know has hit a point where they are exhausted and completely over impressing and proving.
And you know, this “impressing” thing we do — most of the time, it’s subconscious.
For me, it comes out most whenever I’m feeling inadequate or if I’m placing too much emphasis on what other people think of me. It can come across like bragging or showing off or one-upping. Real talk: sometimes I catch myself doing it and realize how annoying it is, but I can’t stop. It’s like my dad and cigarettes: a bad habit you just can’t seem to kick.
At times, I believe this whole impressing thing is society’s fault. They (whoever they are) command us to be impressive. We are expected to put on our most impressive outfit, list our most impressive qualities, and walk into that job interview ready to hit one out of the park.
It’s not all bad, but do you recall how you felt after a job interview or a few hours at a stuffy cocktail party? I know I can’t be the only one who feels, well… spent.
It’s because impressing is exhausting.
More often than we care to admit, this desire to impress others motivates our lives. It steers the decisions we make in regard to the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the technology we embrace, and the careers we choose.
The worst part is that it’s often elusive and ever-changing. Fashion changes. Cars rust. Technology advances. The purchases that impressed your neighbor yesterday make no impression today. As a result, you end up with out-of-style clothes, a job you hate, overwhelming debt, and jealousy toward that neighbor who seems to have it all. It’s an unquenchable desire that begs us to begin the cycle again. And let me tell ya, it’s vicious.
Here’s a thought exercise: Think of someone in your life who truly impresses you. Who’s the first person who came to mind? What is it about their life that inspires you?
My good friend, Becky, pops into my mind instantly. She has overcome some really tough times in her life, is completely content being single, is always happy for others when they succeed without a twinge of jealousy, and she is never afraid to laugh a little bit too loud in public places.
You know what’s interesting? When we think of the people we’re most impressed by, usually it’s not because of their clothes, or cars, or the size of their house. Usually, the people who truly inspire us possess invisible, intangible qualities we all desire.
Around this time last year, I met a man named Jeremy on a flight out of Chicago. (Southwest Airlines’ no-assigned seating policy is both a blessing and a curse.) On this particular flight, I was near the end of the final boarding group and knew that I was more than likely going to get stuck with a middle seat. Lucky for me, there was one open spot between two of the slenderest guys.
Judging by his carry-on bag, which was halfway tucked under the seat in front of him, and his attire, this guy was an athlete. Being a former college athlete, I decided to strike up a conversation with him. After all, we had to have some common ground, right? After prying (I’m relentless.), I discovered that Jeremy was a highly acclaimed marathon runner.
Talking with him brought up an unexpected revelation. When I asked him about the training, the diet he keeps, and the mental obstacles he must confront during a marathon race, his responses were dreadful. It was as if this guy hated running, yet it’s what he spent a good chunk of his life doing. Being the blunt person I am (and lacking the social skills to stop myself), I finally asked why he kept doing something he didn’t even enjoy.
“This is what people expect of me,” he said. “I have a reputation to live up to. Plus, I’ve always been naturally good at it,” he trailed off, as if trying to convince himself.
The thing is, running a single marathon takes up so much time. From training to the day of the race, it’s a huge commitment. We’re not talking about a walk around the block — the training and effort is unparalleled. Jeremy, whether he came right out and admitted it to himself or not, was committing his life to a set of expectations defined for him by other people.
I looked out the plane window and wondered, why is so much of what we do motivated by the desire to impress and please other people? And more importantly: How do we stop?
Not one of us is immune, I’m convinced; we’re all guilty of it at some point in our lives. But what purpose does this behavior actually serve? We know it leads us further away from our true self. We know we miss out on the beauty that comes from a life lived fully in our God-given identity. Not to mention, it annoys the very people we’re trying so hard to impress. It’s flat-out exhausting.
I believe we can tamper down the urge to say to the world, “Look at me! See how much I’ve done! Please accept me!” There is a humbler way. We can have a more fulfilling life, free of masks and fake bliss.
This other way, I have found, is by choosing to live authentically.
We live in a world where social media is ever-present, and it’s so easy to post edited, posed, and perfected shots with a clever caption that makes everyone envy our “perfect” and “fun” life. But we don’t have to! We can choose not to participate in that behavior.
We are faced with these seemingly minuscule choices every single day:
The choice to turn conversation off of ourselves and instead ask really good questions to get to know someone else;
The choice to do things we love, regardless of what anyone else thinks;
The choice to quit doing things purely because of the way we believe it’s perceived;
The choice to check our motivations and intentions, pausing to ask the question: “What am I trying to prove and whom am I trying to impress?”
The choice to stand firmly in who we are, online and off.
The sum of these choices adds up to our life. Will ours be one of authenticity or impressing?
Repeat after me: I have nothing to prove and no one to impress. God loves me unconditionally, despite my past and present mistakes.
If we spend our days in a relationship with Him, we will become more like Him. There, I’ve found, we will find freedom from a life of impressing and exhaustion.