It’s deep mid February, the time when ice is penning people at home, my cats are restless and fighting with each other and a lot of the people I know are really struggling in various ways. I am currently battling my fourth virus of this winter, and am secretly convinced I’m harbouring some vintage illness like whooping cough or consumption. (My chest xray was clear; it’s garden variety crud). The very thought of going to a gym and paying to run on a fancy treadmill seems like a far away dream. So since I can’t work out and do the other things that give me joy and ease, I wanted to post about a thing I did for my birthday last week: I asked people I know to tell me three adjectives that reminded me of them. Then I made a word cloud of it.
I got this idea from my friend Grace, who asked me to contribute to her cloud, and wrote a blog post about it a couple of weeks ago. (I sent her three words when I got off the treadmill. The LAST TIME I WAS ON THE TREADMILL whine whine cough cough hack hack whine).
We also do a thing like this in one of the programs I teach in. That one is called “reflected best self” and is a bit more involved — it asks people to describe examples of when they saw these elements in the person. Our students are usually very resistant to trying it — they are really self-conscious about asking people to say nice things about them — but people are always incredibly generous with their time. And it has an incredibly powerful effect on our students — I think we tend not to be very conscious of or comfortable talking about the things we like about ourselves, and we don’t always have a good grip on the way people see us. After we do that in our leadership program, people shift — they get more confident, more grounded in their authentic selves, start to use their strengths differently.
I was surprisingly moved by my word cloud. I asked people I was working with, a few people by text, and all the people on Facebook wishing me happy birthday. And I got about 50 responses.
People generally got the idea of saying adjectives that described me in what they see as my best self when I said “three different words you would use to describe me.” (No one wrote “irritable, stubborn and tiring,” — lol, although a few people did word association things like “goats” and “yoga” and “carrot cake” — all lovely things in themselves). Then I made a list and put the words into one of those word cloud aggregators (I used wordle, but I had to download a java app to my computer to make it work — I’m sure there’s a better one). This one makes the words bigger based on the number of times they appear.
Apparently people see me as adventurous, smart and generous. That’s a pretty good self to live into.
As the words were coming in, I was on my way to a cottage for a weekend with Susan, her daughter and her daughter’s friend. The driving was awful and snow squally, so I decided to inscribe the word cloud into my journal. Every word I wrote with my own hand made me feel joyful, made me feel incredibly warm to the people I love.
I think everyone should do this. There’s a lot of power in writing “tough, strong and fierce” about yourself and knowing that other people see it. There’s a lot of gratitude that comes when you know that people see you as compassionate, thoughtful a good listener.
I can’t do the stuff I want to do to move my body right now — even yoga makes me cough too hard. My body needs recovery. Seeing myself at my best refracted through other people’s words really helps me feel powerful in that.
Try it for yourself.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and trudges through icy puddles in Toronto. This is her and Susan hiking in the snow last weekend. Look at the rosy cheeks! Look at the smiles! Look at the cute mittens!