On being a Big Cheese

I have just returned from the ITA national conference. This was the end of my first year as Chair and Trustee of the organisation and so it had a different feel for me. I was not only there as a delegate and presenter but as a figure-head for the Council and as many people referred to me a ‘Big Cheese’. Funny, I had not considered myself a Big Cheese before that moment, but rather thought of myself just as me.

The ITA is a member organisation run by volunteers, I am not paid for my role and I work hard. It’s been a good first year and we have achieved a lot.

I used this event to build relationships with members, to re-connect with old friends as well as fulfilling the requirements of my role at this function. At one point I was chatting to a group of new members who nearly fell off their chair when they realised who I was. It was a bizarre moment for me of seeing myself through their eyes. I am just me, human, fallible, ordinary, but they perceived something different because of my Big Cheese title.

They were projecting something or someone on to me because of the job I was doing. This is very commonplace, not necessarily linked to status, we do it often and an understanding of this can really help us in both our personal and professional lives.

Projection is when we put someone else’s face on someone and then react to them as if they were that person. This will relate to someone in our past. If we have an instant like or dislike when we meet someone it will be because at some level we are projecting someone else onto them,  in that moment they are someone else for us.

The new members in that moment were not seeing me, Leilani, ordinary human being but projecting someone from their past onto me.

We are not in control of who people project on to us, but to know who you are projecting onto others can be very useful to you, especially in those relationships that we struggle with.

Reflect for a minute on someone you struggle with in your life now, think about the feeling you feel, the reaction you have, the beliefs you have about them. Now reflect back on your earlier life. Who have you felt like that in relation to in the past? It might be someone completely different but the feeling will be similar.

The problem with projection is that we get stuck in it. We conclude that a person is a certain way, because we are projecting a past figure – then we stick with that narrative. Relationships then stay stuck in an unhealthy pattern as we don’t see the person for who they are but we see them as the previous figure.

Studies have found that increased self-awareness improves relationships, both personal and professional and increases people’s quality of life. These small insights can make big differences to us.

By Leilani Mitchell

These are my thoughts today, tomorrow I may change my mind.

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