The Perception of Your Current vs Future Self

The Scenario

You all know the scenario. Someone is trying to showcase a skill, but continuously fails to get it right. They say, “wait, one more try and i’ll get it”.

People do this because they want to shape people’s perception of them. They want their present-selves to go be perceived as capable of a certain ability. Sometimes this means playing a solo on guitar, sometimes doing a skate boarding trick, sometimes answering a question in class, you get the idea.

When you find yourself in this situation, you are typically trying to give an impression of yourself that is “more skilled” than the present you. You can only nail the guitar solo one in a dozen times, but you want to show people the one time you get it right to make them think more highly of you than you “deserve”. Each time you fail the guitar solo you play it off as a fluke even if the real fluke is when you get it right.

In general, try not to be this person.

What To Do

When making decisions, do not consider too heavily how the possible actions will affect what other people think of your current self. Instead, consider to what extent the actions will push you in the direction of the person that you want to be. Then let your average actions over time speak for themselves as your character tends towards the person that you want to be.

Who cares whether or not people think you can nail that guitar solo right now. Wow them in a few months when you have acquired that skill and more; you’ll be playing the solo with the guitar behind your back.

If you are really so close to getting the skill, just show them next time.

At the very least, acknowledge that your current self either is or is not good at a skill, and recognize when you are trying to give a “false” impression of yourself. That being said, this doesn’t mean you can’t improve at the skill over time.

This is a mindset shift. Basically, notice that see that “you” is very malleable in its character, and try not to care too much about what people think about your current self. Think of your future self as a different person.

The Why

The Benefits of Owning Your Skill Level

The most powerful reasons for owning your skill level are the ways it frees you.

Think of a time you wanted to do something but were afraid of how others would perceive you. By caring too much about other people’s perceptions of your current self, you don’t take the action that you want. If you were to instead adopt the mindset shift focusing on your future instead of your present self, you take the action realizing that you can always reshape your perception in the future if things don’t work out.

For similar reasons, the mindset shift can be very helpful in reducing the negatives of perfectionism.

The Problems with “false” impressions

  • most of the time you don’t fool anyone anyways which comes off worse than if you just owned your actual skill level
  • it can lead to situations of imposter syndrome
  • you get caught up in lies

The Downsides

I will admit there are some disadvantages to giving a “true” impression, most importantly that you can miss out on cases where “the ends justify the means”, for example a job interview and other situations where you want to fake it till you make it. There is a balance, you can mix and match to a certain extent. You can still fake it till you make it. I am just advocating for a more general mindset shift. The pros of the mindset shift definitely outweight the cons.

How I Apply This In My Life

In my own life the feeling of freedom that came with this mindset shift has been incredible.

I see the freedom appear most directly in the ways that I put myself online: writing, singing, and playing guitar. If I were afraid of how other’s perceived me, I likely wouldn’t have ever even started posting on this blog, or on my youtube channel, for fear of being perceived of producing low quality work.

Focusing on the youtube channel: By acknowleding that I either am or am not a good singer, I can stop myself from trying to “perfect” each video. I just put it out there and see what happens. Then I do it again, and again, over and over. Even if I am not a good singer, this mindset gives me a better chance of becoming one than if I never tried. This is well exemplified in the parable of the cermaics teacher:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

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