Difficult People

If getting along with people was an Olympic sport, I’d medal in it. I’m not saying I would take home gold, but I had at least 18 years of training of being agreeable, and that’s no small feat. I’d like to think that I’ve matured and, to borrow the expression “grown a backbone” in my years outside of my parents home. But my default is always ‘playing well with others’.

Until recently.

I’ll confess that there is someone who I work with who just…infuriates me. I would call it irrational if the person in question wasn’t so polarizing. I worked through it for the first 6 months; painfully navigating a friendly interaction every time. But then, about 2 months ago, it felt like something inside of my literally broke. I could no longer manage the initial greeting or pleasantry. I stopped going out of my way to offer help. I started speaking only when spoken to, and referring this individual to our boss whenever possible.

Initially I was disappointed in myself. Though I now strongly disagree with the idea that women should be raised to be complacent and nice above all else, I am proud of my composure and treatment of people. To react so viscerally to someone who I only knew within a work context seemed unfair and petty of me.

But as time has passed, and as I’ve listened to other people share my same concerns over this individual, I’ve come to realize that some people just don’t mesh. This person and I could not be more different in temperaments, perspectives, or the way we approach problems. It makes sense that it would be difficult for us to work together. I had established early on that I would bend to make things more comfortable for everyone – an act that I now partially regret. Realizing my mistake and changing my behavior, while warranted, has made me appear angry and uncooperative.

I deal with that now, and I focus on my work and less on my interactions. I’m still cordial and polite and never go out of my way to be sardonic. But I’m less likely to extend lunch invitations and more likely to hold this person accountable when they mess up – as I would expect from them.

The Casualties of Authenticity

My journey to self-discovery has been 2.5 years and several thousand dollars in the making. Being both impatient and rather frugal, it hasn’t been the easiest road. And yet I wouldn’t trade that time or resources for anything: because here I am – nearly 27 and finally an authentic, albeit rough, version of myself.

Anyone who has struggled with self-esteem, mental health issues, an identity crisis, or has gone through a general personality change, is probably aware of the occasional loss of friends, partners, family members, etc. that sometimes happen. Not to negate their pain or struggles, but in the end these experiences are routine with growth and development.

It’s sometimes difficult to identify the exact point where you recognize that your individual paths start veering in opposite directions. In 2.5 years, I’ve parted ways with a handful of people; friends and partners. Sometimes it happens naturally – a gradual drifting apart without comment or recognition. Other times, it’s more dramatic – it’s a falling-out, an exclamation or accusation made in anger, or the burning of a bridge.

Both are sad to me. Both result in the ending of something, and I’ve never been particularly fond of endings. In the past, I had two coping mechanisms for this: avoidance and ignorance. Neither worked particularly well. I always felt it was my responsibility to fix things, or to make amends, often while sacrificing my own authenticity in the meantime.

I did no one a service in my actions. I put band aids on leaks in dams that burst anyways. I ignored my own needs to try and keep peace, only to end up being a terrible friend or partner because I wasn’t being myself – and therefore wasn’t happy. I avoided situations that turned worse without attention.

But the beauty of mistakes is that you can learn from them. I’m not always proud of the way I’ve reacted, but I am proud of learning to recognize my own needs and growth. Sometimes the hardest thing in the world isn’t to be honest with other people – but to be honest with yourself.

Sometimes, others’ perceptions of you will remain stagnant despite personal growth. Often what is apparent to us internally isn’t obvious to others. That’s okay. It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just the nature of relationships. If something is broken, it may just need time and space to heal. Or it may be something that shouldn’t be repaired. Honesty with ourselves is integral in finding the appropriate action for the situation.