When I was younger, I had this image of the successful adult : ruthless, sure of himself, who knew how to get what he wanted whatever the circumstances or who he had to walk on in order to achieve his goals.
I strived to become that kind of adult because I thought that was the only way to gain respect as a leader, a creator of projects, rather than becoming a meek follower. I even became rather good at it. Once I made someone under me cry and even though I felt a little bad for him, I also believed that I had done the right thing. Because that’s what fearless leaders do, and others should get a thicker skin if they want to follow me, right ?
At the same time, young me discovered buddhism, that advertised a very different way of life. And I (the vegetarian unable to kill a mosquito) obviously agreed with everything they said. I had found my place.
But, how was I suppose to feel empathy for people and at the same time crush them so I could move up the ladder ?
So for a while there was two me : the ruthless-cold-Cora at work and the relaxed-understanding-Cora. Problem was, the empathic Cora was only here on holidays, and as some of you must know, you get less and less holidays as you grow up.
Then I started traveling, meeting people outside of work, outside of Paris, discovering new places and new cultures, and it suddenly clicked that it was not true everywhere that you had to walk all over people to get what you wanted. It wasn’t true that crying was a shameful thing. It wasn’t true that thinking about other people’s happiness as well as your own was a weakness.
I couldn’t believe I had let myself become ruthless-cold-Cora. I was ashamed.
So I decided that I would stop pretending. Pretending that I don’t really care when someone crushes a spider right in front of me. Pretending that I don’t feel bad for homeless people asking money on the subway. Pretending that I don’t feel like crying when I see pictures of starving children.
The culture I was born into made me believe that feeling or expressing sadness and understanding was a weakness, that you should always put yourself first in order to prosper and that being nice and successful were incompatible.
Bunch. Of. Lies.
You know what ? Since I’ve stopped pretending, I find it way easier to get what I want. True, at first glance, people judge me directly as « too nice ». But they’re right ! We talk in a genuine way, I’m not trying to get them to do anything for me, I’m not bargaining services. And that’s why when I do need help on something, they will help me. Because I’m nice. I’m not yelling. I’m not pretend-checking my phone while we’re talking (come on we all did it). I’m honest. I don’t discuss lightly issues that matter to me because I’m afraid to show too much.
I’m almost never mad at people anymore, which is doing them as much good as it’s doing me. If someone is being annoying, I do my best to try to see the reason behind their actions.
And best of all, I feel better about myself for being genuine and not hiding my true self anymore.
There’s two things that really helped me develop that empathy. The first was traveling solo (guess there’s no need to convince you on the benefits of that or you wouldn’t be reading me!), the second was buddhism and more specifically meditation.
I’m not telling you that people should come before you or that you should be a slave to your friends. Understanding others is also understanding yourself. I’m just saying that a little empathy can go a long way.
It will help you see things in another light, I promise.