When I was twelve-years-old, I discovered I was a celebrity of sorts.
My parents worked for a non-profit organization and much of their job involved fund raising and meeting supporters for dinners and casual gatherings to inform them about the work they were doing. My brother and I were usually there as well.
One day, I walked into the home of a perfect stranger. As I entered their kitchen, I saw a picture of my face on their refrigerator. It was a postcard sized image of our family with relevant details about what kind of work we were doing and how interested parties could reach us or our organization.
I was completely taken aback. Who were these people? Remind me why I’m here again? Why am I on their refrigerator? After a few moments, I had a rather shocking revelation: “These people think they know who I am.”
Our supporters–whether they realized it or not–had a preconceived idea about who we were. I was this perfect,twelve-year-old who got to travel the world and see amazing things and I was “just so blessed” to be part of what my parents were doing and wouldn’t it be amazing to be part of my family.
Years and countless similar visits later, I realized the thing that really bothered me. I didn’t really mind someone having a preconceived idea about who I was. This happens everyday with acquaintances and people we meet in passing. What bothered me was that they thought they had the right to interact with me based on the notions they created in their heads.
They believed I was the person they thought I was not who I really was.
And what was worse is they didn’t notice the difference.
For years, I let these people define me. I smiled and answered their questions. I complemented their cooking, and I put on a big smile as we left their house. I knew our family needed their donations. I thought I was doing the right thing.
Now I’m an adult and have had years to process these experiences. I’m not longer upset or angry at what these people thought about me. Let’s face it: I’ve made the same kind of assumptions in similar situations.
But I now know I’ll never have to conform to that picture perfect image on someone’s refrigerator ever again. I am my own person.
And if you want to get to know me, you should just ask.