Tag Archives: personality

Get Off the Roundabout

Magic_roundabout

Hello, you lovely thing. How’s your Wednesday treating you so far?

Today is a sad day. Today I have decided to give up on a book, which never happens.  The book in questions is Howards End, and I’m having to give up because so far I hate pretty much all of the characters. Also, E.M. Forster’s writing style is incredibly long-winded and patronising. The story might actually be quite interesting, but I wouldn’t know because the narrative is sending me to sleep.

Anyway, giving up on a book made me question my personality, my priorities and the inner workings of my very soul (or perhaps something a little bit less melodramatic). I’m being silly, but the truth is that when we choose to give up on something that we consider a big part of who we are, it does tend to make us stop and think.

A friend of mine who loves cheer leading is having to give it up due to health problems, which is a huge shame. When we are forced by circumstance to give up on something we love, there can be an element of resentment and feeling hard done by.  Is it better, then, to be able to choose to give up?  Is there more dignity in a decision than there is in obligation?

Yes and no.  Making the decision to give up something – a vice, a pastime, an unhealthy relationship – gives us a feeling of control and self-discipline, which can be very good for us.  Having said that, we are only making the decisions now because we know that later on the decision will be taken away from us, and it will become a case of necessity rather than independent action.

The other thing to consider is that you are not defined by the sort of things that you might find yourself giving up, even if it was a potential (or current) career.  I am not defined by the fact that I read a lot, any more than you are defined by your typical Saturday afternoon activities or your preference of hot beverage.

Besides, people change all of the time.  You are not who you were a couple of years ago, and you are not who you will be next week.  You never know what life is going to give you, and if you have to give something else up in order to move forward, so be it.  You might spend years thinking of yourself in one way, and then find that you’ve been going round and round and getting nowhere.  Get off the roundabout and find something new.

Have a stupendously enjoyable Wednesday.  May your lunch be truly worthy of Instagramming.

They Know Too Much

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Hello, and happy Tuesday to you, you gorgeous creature!

I had a conversation with a friend of mine the other day about personas, and how what we present to the world doesn’t match up with what we’re actually like.  Sometimes we come across well-meaning individuals who tell us that they can “see through” us, and that they know what we’re “really” like.

This is obviously infuriating for several reasons, not least because it’s pretty disrespectful not to take someone at face value.  Of course we all have many layers and sides and depths that we don’t reveal in everyday conversation, but I think we’re all at an age when we have arranged our social personas to be a good balance of what is accurate and what is acceptable.

Only a very few people in our lives are allowed to say that they “see through” us (and a good way of identifying them is that they very rarely feel the need to tell you so).  There are people in all of our lives whom we never want to lose, if only because they know too much about us.  It can be alarming and disarming to realise that your friends and loved ones understand some supposedly secret things about you, but I think that if we take a closer look we will see that this is an excellent thing.  Here are a few things that our true friends know about us:

What We’re Like When We’re Drunk
The friends who know you best will be able to tell at twenty paces how many drinks you’ve had, and in some cases what those drinks actually were.  (“Good Christ, she’s absolutely gone.  Must be between seven and nine ciders.”  “No, she’s only had six, but there was definitely a Jägerbomb between four and five.”)  While this can be annoying in terms of next-day debriefs, it’s also a very valuable asset.  Your friends know exactly when to humour your tipsy ramblings, dissuade you from drunk dialling, pour you into a taxi or even pour you another drink.  (That last one depends on how drunk they are in comparison to you, of course.)

When We’re Not Ok
It would be lovely to be able to go through life appearing as competent, happy and organised human beings, wouldn’t it?  A lot of the time, even when we are feeling very far from alright indeed, we can fool a lot of people into assuming that everything’s fine.  People who love us can always tell when we’re faking a smile or pretending to have fun, and it’s sometimes difficult to admit to when we’re trying to keep ourselves together.  You must know that feeling when someone offers you a hug and you refuse, just because you know that you’ll cry if you say yes?  Well, let’s all agree to stop doing that.  Take the hug.

When We’re Lying
I’m not suggesting that we’re all terrible fib-tellers, but our closest companions can always tell when we’re not being entirely truthful.  That might be when we’re umming and erring, trying not to offend them with our honest opinion, or when we’re being falsely bright with a person they know we can’t stand, or when we answer “yes” to the question “are you sure you don’t want seconds?”

What Our Weaknesses Are
Someone who has been in your life for a long time knows what your Achilles’ heel is, even if you’ve never explicitly revealed it to them.  It might be a particular food, a favourite film or even another person, but don’t forget that your real friends always know.  For example, my friends know that I am easily placated by shiny things (up to and including tin foil).  The great thing about weaknesses is that sometimes you discover that you share yours with someone you care about, which makes them more fun to indulge in.

I think that the main problem we have with our friends being so flipping knowledgeable about us is that it can make us feel vulnerable, and their understanding of us does sort of undermine the persona we present to the world.  Having said that, it’s only by being vulnerable with the people who love us that we are able to be who we actually are.  It’s so much better to let people in on your secrets than it is to go around pretending to be normal all of the time.

Have a glorious Tuesday.

Unsplit Personalities

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Good morning!  It’s Noel Fielding’s birthday today, did you know?  On the very small off-chance that he reads this: Happy Birthday, Noel!

Over the past few days I’ve been thinking about personalities, and how very complicated they are.  We have a tendency to separate out different sections of our personalities, because we think that certain bits are anomalous to who we are, and some parts are just plain embarrassing.  It is too difficult and confusing to admit that our bad habits and secret sins are linked to our genes, our upbringings or our life styles.  Much easier to have a persona that can be summed up in three words by the people who know us best, and leave it at that.

We are encouraged to keep up this pretence of simplicity by constantly summarising and censoring ourselves: job applications, CVs, online dating profiles, Twitter biographies and more ask us to reduce ourselves into a few short sentences, and we willingly oblige.  We know that we’re complicated, but we don’t everyone else to know that.

The thing is that every aspect of your personality is linked to something else about you, and that is a really good thing.  Take the anomalies, for instance: I like watching football, which seems a bit random in terms of my other interests, but actually it does make sense.  I like watching events with a large group of people (like when I go to the theatre), I like lots of noise (because I grew up in a big family) and I like having a pint with my friends (that’s just a given).  So even though I’m not a stereotypical football fan, it makes sense for me to like football once you break it down.

When we think of certain personality aspects as anomalous we don’t embrace them for what they are: an important part of what makes us a complete person.  This comes up a lot with mental health issues.  People call depression “the black dog”, which I think is really stupid for two reasons: firstly, making the illness a separate, animalistic entity encourages people to be afraid of it and distance themselves from the issue, and secondly it kind of ruins the third Harry Potter book if you have that association in mind.

I’m not suggesting that mental health problems are a good thing (obviously), but if you have to live with them you shouldn’t have to be afraid of them, as well.  They are part of who you are, but they don’t define you.  There’s plenty of awesomeness in your personality, too, and they’re not necessarily separate qualities.  For example, living with something like depression can give you strength you never knew you had.

Everyone has aspects of their personalities that they wish they could change or get rid of, but you are who you are.  If we refuse to accept the bad things about our psyches as well as the good, we are rejecting a massive proportion of what makes us a real human being.  Think about it: if we didn’t all have bad and good things about us, we would be completely angelic and therefore entirely incapable of empathy.  We’d also be kind of boring.  And you, my friend, are definitely not boring.

Have a stupendous Wednesday.

The Duke of Edinburgh Wants to Help

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Hello, reader!  How goes the world with you today?

A couple days I ago I got offered a front of house job with a kids’ theatre company.  It’s only for a couple of weeks in June while their touring show is in London, but I’m very pleased about it.  I am also pretty chuffed that they’re sending me on a paediatric first aid course this week, even though it’s pretty far away in London terms, and it’s happening during another tube strike.  Wish me luck.

Yesterday I was on the phone to a friend of mine who works in a pub.  (He’s also an extremely talented actor, but don’t tell him I said that.  It’ll only go to his head, and I have to work with him in Edinburgh this summer.)  When I told him about the first aid thing, he retorted “well, I’ve got a…um…food hygiene certificate!”  First of all, first aid beats food hygiene in my humble opinion – come on, my certificate means I can save lives – and secondly, why are we competing (even in jest) over qualifications that neither of us is particularly fussed about?  We would both rather have theatre credits to our names than certificates in health and safety.  So why do we care?

I think all of us care about our qualifications, even the ones that have absolutely nothing to do with the career we’ve ended up pursuing.  This is true of those of us who have GCSEs in obscure subjects that we promptly forgot about the day we turned up to sixth form, and the Duke of Edinburgh Award victims who reminisce about their experiences with haunted expressions.  And why shouldn’t we?  They’re all achievements, for heaven’s sake.

Qualifications that have nothing to do with your main passion are an excellent thing, because they demonstrate that you’ve had a variety of different interests throughout your life, and consequently your personality seems all the more fascinating and multi-faceted.  Also, the only good thing about vamping up your CV to apply for jobs is remembering all of the amazing stuff you can do and have already done.  It’s nice to have a confidence boost just before you throw yourself into the harrowing world of job hunting, isn’t it?

The other great thing about having qualifications that are outside your main field of interest is that you never know when they’re going to come in handy.  My paediatric first aid qualification will be very valuable if I’m ever confronted with a choking child, and although I cannot express just how much I never, ever want that situation to occur, at least if it does I’ll be able to do something about it, which is nice.

Have a lovely bank holiday Monday!  May your day be filled with small but pleasant suprises.

Judgement Call

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Good morning and happy Saturday to you!  D’you know, I only discovered yesterday that this is another bank holiday weekend.  Thank goodness those poor, tired bankers are having a well-earned rest from the arduous task of stealing our money.

As you can see, I’ve just made a mass-judgement about bankers based on the global financial crisis, and although that’s not exactly a controversial opinion, I’m sure that there are nice, compassionate people among the financiers of Canary Wharf.  (Don’t look at me like that.  It could happen.)

What makes you judge someone?  Do you assume that someone is trendy (and therefore a bad person) because they’re sporting a beard and skinny jeans?  Do you dub someone a saint in your mind because you witness them buying a Big Issue?  Do you lose respect for a friend when you discover that they enjoy the musical stylings of Justin Bieber?

I do, and if you’re honest I think you do, too.  Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a preachy post about how we need to be less judgemental (although I think we should probably give it a go, shouldn’t we?  Yeah, alright.  I will if you will).  Instead, I would like to identify a few things that we absolutely should judge people based on:

1) How they talk about their elders
Even if someone doesn’t have the best relationship in the world with their biological parents, everyone has parental figures in their lives from whom they have learned a great deal.  The way that someone talks about their mum, older sibling, grandparent, favourite teacher etc. tells you a lot about what made them who they are, and how big a part of their personality is informed by a sense of respect.

2) Sense of humour
Don’t be misled here: I don’t mean that you should judge people based on which sitcoms they like, or whether they’re fans of the Cornetto Trilogy.  By “sense of humour” I mean how they respond to day-to-day life: do they laugh when they fall over in public, or throw a hissy fit?  Do they snigger at others’ misfortune, or are they sympathetic?  A person’s sense of humour demonstrates very clearly what their priorities are and how much perspective they have.

3) Social standing
Again, don’t get the wrong idea: I’m not suggesting that we split the world into Breakfast Club characters.  What I mean is, you can tell a lot about someone by how their friends behave around them.  For example, my brother is the dad figure in his friendship group at uni.  This amuses me because I know him well enough (obviously) to know that how his friends see him accurately reflects his personality.

4) How (much) they feel about stuff
Obviously we can’t have an opinion about everything, but you can make fairly accurate assumptions about someone based on how much they care about their interests, ambitions and morals.  It doesn’t really matter what the interests are (within the limits of morality and the law, of course) as long as the person cares about them.  Apathy is the enemy of romance, art, the progress of science and half-decent conversation.

5) How they feel about you
For your own sake, you should definitely make judgements based on how someone treats you, and how they feel about you.  Someone who loves you (and acts like it) is clearly an excellent human being, and someone who does not is not worth your time.  Also, who wouldn’t love you?  You’re adorable!

Have a lovely, relaxing Saturday.  Maybe go for a long walk.

Tricky Definitions

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Happy Friday everyone!  I hope you’ve all decided whether to sit in the front seat or the back seat.  These are the kind of decisions that can really make or break the start of your weekend.

Today’s blog is about definitions, and why they can be really good OR spectacularly awful.  We use them all the time, perhaps without even realising in some cases.  Definitions are meant to provide clarity and make something that is unknown more imaginable, but in some situations they may do more harm than good.

Let’s start with the basics: a dictionary defines words for us.  This is a wonderful thing, except when people start a speech or essay with the words “The Oxford English Dictionary defines (insert random abstract noun) as follows”.  That needs to stop.

In terms of human definitions, the most obvious initial one is whether a person is male or female.  Without delving too far into the complex issue of gender politics, I do think that this is quite an interesting one.  Firstly, there are people who are biologically one gender who identify more strongly with the other, and some prefer an androgynous identity.  In literature, many authors have chosen to use their initials rather than gender-specific first names: P.D. James, for example, and J. K. Rowling.  Again, I really am not trying to start a debate about whether women are at a disadvantage in literary circles and anonymity is necessary, but I do think it’s interesting that something as arbitrary as gender definition has a role in somebody’s reputation as a writer.

Physical definitions are incredibly tricky, and they come up most often in life.  When you’re talking to a friend and describing someone they can’t remember, physical definition is the first thing you turn to: “You know Simon.  Tall, dark hair.  Always wears a leather jacket.”  That’s not a bad thing necessarily, because it’s an aide to memory, but in some cases it can get pretty nasty.  Online dating profiles, for example, or when discussing the pros and cons of a potential partner: “She’s nice, but she’s got a really big nose.”  “I’m a curvy, bubbly socialite with long, blonde hair.”  Cringe o’clock.  These definitions are more disturbing than the memory aides because they are not about reinforcing a previous observation: they are about trying to create a mental picture of someone that allows you to judge them.  Why is an appearance-based picture of someone more important than what they’re actually like?

Appearance-based definitions are absolutely huge in the performing arts world.  Casting briefs can be incredibly specific about height, weight, eye colour and all sorts of other physical attributes.  As a writer and director I understand that you may have a very clear mental image of what a character needs to look like, but my favourite thing about casting is when somebody surprises you by being like the character, not necessarily looking like them.  On a fundamental level, I resent the idea that you could go through life being an extremely talented actor who doesn’t look “marketable”, and therefore miss out on work.  What on earth is the point of investing thousands of pounds in your education at a drama school, working hard to develop your skills and repertoire, only to discover that you just don’t look right?

Sometimes definitions can be helpful.  In rehearsals, I encourage my actors to work out as much specific detail about their characters as possible: favourite foods, pet peeves, family backgrounds and more.  These definitions may never be referred to in the performance, but they help the actors to build up as complete a mental picture as possible of who they are trying to portray.  But here’s the thing: this mental picture is based on personality attributes, not physical, and it’s there to help them do their jobs.

The issue of relationship status definition is among the most prevalent in today’s society, particularly for people my age: as those of you who have read this blog post will know, I hate the entire damn thing.  “We’re just dating.”  “We’re sort of seeing each other.”  “We’re not official.”  FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, people who are “officially” together do not have a certificate from the government or a permit from their local council; they’re just together.  And whatever you are to someone, it doesn’t matter in the slightest how the rest of the world sees your relationship as long as YOU know what the terms are.  What good does it do you if you tell your friends that you’re “not exclusive” with someone if, when they go out and sleep with someone else, it upsets you because you secretly hoped that the relationship was more serious than that?  Well, you may THINK you feel emotionally betrayed, but actually your social circle can testify that your relationship definition was “non-exclusive”, so actually you have no right to be sad.  Oh, ok.  I’ll switch my emotions off, then.  Ridiculous.

The main thing about definitions is that, if we do need to use them, I think we should use them for good things.  Aides to memory – fine.  Character analysis – fine.  (I hope so, anyway, because I get my actors to do a lot of work on that!)  But definitions that reduce a person in any way, or encourage others to judge them for something completely arbitrary, are a no-no.

Have a lovely Friday.  May your trains/buses/flying monkeys run exactly to schedule.