You’re Not Who I Imagined You to Be

You read a book you love, you imagine the author to be someone who could be your best friend. You read the next book, it’s even better. You feel you know the author. You meet the author at a book signing and he doesn’t have a flash of soul recognition. Or maybe he is dumpy, frumpy, and a bit cranky. You go home and toss out all the books and change your fanmail review on Amazon. Your imagination has been bruised.

courage-be-yourselfInteresting, huh? Once we have an image of someone in our heads, we don’t want them to be anything else. We say things like, “I used to like her, but then she changed. . .” or “She wasn’t anything like I expected.” And quite often, if the real person is not like our imagined one, it’s not ourselves we adjust. Instead, we walk away, slightly angry and disappointed. The real person failed to be our imagined creation.

After meeting me at a book signing, one woman realized I am not the illustrator she imagined me to be. Although I state this clearly in both books, she had thought that someone who writes like I do, and does art, must also be an illustrator. She thought I was just being modest. And here I was, not a modest illustrator, writing a how-to book on expressive art. The nerve! She told me as much, and walked away without buying a book. Deep breath . . . and. . . not my problem to solve. Yes, I write about expressive creativity, but my focus is on the Inner Critic, the voice that ruins who we are and shames us for not being someone we can’t be.

Often training clients who have never met me imagine me as younger, thinner,392059_305190596168834_1104470495_n prettier. Their faces go through contortions while they try to think of something acceptable to say. My favorite (and most flattering comment, to my ears) was, “Your emails are so professional and smart, I thought you’d be more like me.” Yes, that’s exactly what we want. Recognizing our best selves in others so we can like them.

Those reactions is one way I prove to people they are creative. We make up images, backstories, expected behavior, and are then surprised, disappointed or even a bit angry when our imagination “fooled” us. The sign of real creativity is to be open to change and surprise.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer, coach, and writing intstructor.




15 thoughts on “You’re Not Who I Imagined You to Be

  1. I so enjoyed your post today! I’m not usually what people expect either and yet to me the written relationships are revealing the “real” person within. Written thoughts seem to be from the heart of the person and not just the socially accepted behavior that a person feels they should manifest when interacting with others. But seriously, how rude to say it out loud! Don’t these people have any filters? I am always amazed at what people say to others.

  2. Great post, and I agree wholeheartedly that we want people to match our imagination. I experience this quite often with a twist: people meet me, see me, and then are so surprised when they discover that this fat, old, gray-haired woman is quite intelligent, very talented (music, writing and art), wickedly sharp wit. They just don’t expect “someone like me” to be fun and interesting!

  3. Thank you for the post today…a reminder to listen, and allow each person to tell me who they are – it is not my “job” to define anyone. Several on-line friends have become face to face friends…being open to hearing the voice of others and not painting my picture of who they might be is a behavior I give attention to…thankful for your focusing attention for me today on this significant piece of my relationship to and with other folks. Kristin

    • I’ve met several people in “real life” and had that happen to me, too. But that was a long time ago. I’ve learned to suppress attaching “nice” to a certain look or expectation. I don’t even look like I’d expect myself to look!

  4. I loved this post! I’m an artist, with a fair amount of name recognition and a longtime online presence. I met one of my correspondents a while back, and never having met in person, though she was familiar with my very out there art, when I introduced myself she reared back and said you’re not an artist! you look like a, a, a housewife!

    she had decided I was six feet tall, wearing fur eyelashes and black torn clothes, I think, and was so disappointed in the real person! I forebore to explain that people who try to look like artists are usually wannabes! the real ones are very ordinary looking and pour all their expression into their work. So yes, people do have their own decisions made ahead of time, and I’ve learned not to flinch when they tell me I’m not me!

    • that’s a great story, and exactly what I meant. My name is not gender specific, so I get a fair amount of people who assume I’m a man. I love the “you look just like a . . . housewife” remark!

  5. I think it is especially true now since we don’t really know any of the people in our lives! So many friendships are developed online where only a small part of the person is known. It is a weird part of life today.

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