Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
“A Cha Cha, a Doña and a Colombiana walk into a bar…”
You’re waiting for the punch line, but what if I told you the Cha Cha, Doña and Colombiana are really one in three or three in one? (But not like the Trinity. Waaaay not like the Trinity). Or maybe that’s All (Three) for One and One for All (Three)? Oh, wait, that’s a different story.
Does the lady trio suffer from a Sybil personality disorder, each lady being an alter-ego of the others?
When I hear Cha Cha, I think of the sultry Latina in the Grease dance scene who slinks onto the dance floor with her wild hair and kickin-it moves and proclaims:
“They call me Chaaaaa-chaaaaaa.”
Doña is the complete opposite: a buxom matron, a mother of at least three with smelling salts at the ready in case she passes out when she encounters something scandalous. Like an anklet. A true Doña is usually decked out in a long, black mantilla, standard issue for Doñas these days . The longer and blacker, the more pure Doña blood running through her veins.And do we really need to talk about the Colombiana? Everybody knows she is a coffee-drinking, ruthless killer out to avenge her parents’ death. The narcos got nothing on her. Plus, she is a third cousin, twice removed from Juan Valdez and his donkey so that makes her uber cool.
Perhaps though, we are all Sybil personalities. Not the crazy-kill-your- parents-and-hide-their-bodies-in-the-basement way, but the good way. The way that says there is something more to a person than what is obvious, and a way that is a delight to discover.
We meet people at work, school, church or community and we automatically label them as the office accountant, the guy that installs air-conditioning, or the stay-at-home mom. This isn’t good or bad, it’s just the way it is. It is practical and helps us categorize the people in our lives and keep it all straight. And after all, vocation is a huge part of who we are.
But it is limiting.
It is limiting because once we see Sally So-and-So as “my kid’s teacher” we have a hard time seeing her as something more than that. But what if Ms. SSS was a teacher AND a skydiver? Whoa, baby, major paradigm shift. Now Ms. S-to-the-third power (did I mention she is also a math whiz?) is no longer just a female version of Flat Stanley, but she has dimension. And what if she is also a trained black belt? Now we are talking real person, not to mention the fact that my kid will never misbehave in her class. And I will always be very agreeable at all parent/teacher conferences.
About a year ago I had a conversation with a friend who is staying home to raise her boys. I knew she had a degree in graphic design but that part of her personality didn’t fit the stay at home mom version I had always known. When she told me she was taking some painting classes and showed me her work, I was blown away. Why? Did I think she couldn’t be a mom and a skilled artist? Had laundry and meal preparation diminished her passion and skill? Of course not, but my tunnel vision had diminished my ability to see the entire person. Maybe you don’t have this problem. Maybe you can appreciate the complexity of the people in your sphere, but for me it takes intentionality to look beyond the obvious.
We don’t just limit others. We limit ourselves.
We can also contribute to others’ myopic perspectives of ourselves by compartmentalizing. We compartmentalize our lives and in doing so compartmentalize our personalities. We are parents and we don’t stop being parents when we get to work, but somehow we think we should. So we don’t talk about our kids or share our challenges as parents because that would be “unprofessional.” Yet parenting gives us a mean set of transferable skills; negotiation for one, and who doesn’t want to be a killer negotiator in the conference room?
To some extent, we do need to compartmentalize. Social situations call for different sets of behaviors at different times. Nobody wants to be a gooey, Gumby mess of inappropriate behavior. Plus, I certainly don’t want to go around cleaning up after everyone in the staff lunch room like I do in my home kitchen. But there should also be a natural ebb and flow in our relationships that tell more of our story than our day-to-day roles. Our stories are all so multi-layered and interesting. People are multi-layered and interesting and nobody is just one thing all the time. Our different layers blend into and support our entire persona. Sure, it’s risky to get below the surface. You know what they say: “People are like onions. You peel them one layer at a time and sometimes you cry.” But don’t onions add some spice and flavor to some really boring dishes?
I know this isn’t France. We can’t sit around sipping wine all day long, debating Plato vs. Aristotle, and blowing air kisses on each other’s cheeks (come to think of it, why can’t we? Why should the Frenchies have all the fun?). But maybe we can go a little deeper and find out something new and different about plain old Joe Blow who works in maintenance. He may be writing the next Great American Novel. He might really be into Plato. Or maybe he is just plain old Joe Blow, maintenance worker, but with a wicked sense of humor.
Try this next time you meet someone.
“Hi. Did you know I am a certified circus clown, having completed clown school? By the way, I also fix cars for a living.”
I’ll go first.
“Hi, I am a Cha-cha, a Doña and a Colombiana and I like walking into bars. Would you like to see my mantilla collection?”
What are the other layers that make up all of you?
Yes, I did, in fact, have a boss one time who was a real clown. Go figure.