My avatar taught me a valuable lesson about perceptions. Sometimes we can’t control how we show up for others!
A few months ago, I was preparing for a virtual author’s talk about my humorous book “The Learned It in Queens Communication’s Playbook – Winning Against Digitals Distraction.” The event organizer outlined the session’s format and informed me that we would also be discussing the Metaverse and avatars.
I promptly began reading articles about this topic. I wanted to know “just enough” to understand how this technological development would impact how we communicate with others and identify opportunities for questions and humorous insights. During my research, I learned that avatars get used in many ways, including in social work, health, marketing, and customer service. I also learned about their untapped potential. I found it fascinating that industry experts, including Bill Gates, declared that everyone will utilize multiple avatars and that they will enable us to function better in our professional and personal worlds. When I read this prediction, I thought, “Multiple avatars? That will make for some interesting meetings. It’s not like we have the whole human communication thing down pat as it is” I wondered, “Will I need to start worrying about what my avatar is saying or doing? Will one of my avatars contradict my primary avatar? Am I going to need an avatar attorney?”
I found the potential of the Metaverse intriguing. However, then I read that we will create unique virtual living and working environments and that we will also be able to buy our avatars branded wardrobes And I heard my inner Queens Girl (aka QG) shout, “Fuhgeddaboudit! This is where we draw the line! If anyone is getting a new wardrobe, it will be 3-D me. It will not be some avatar.” When QG finally settled down, I reminded myself that change is constant, and there is always a Ying and Yang to every technological advancement. Of course, I still wanted a new wardrobe.
While I was busy conducting research and having animated internal dialogues, the event organizers created and launched a colorful, eye-catching info-gram into cyberspace. This positioned me as a humorous author and presenter. It was an image – or avatar – I liked. So, I felt very sure I would be able to be true to my style, and present content that would resonate with our listeners.
And then this happened, I discovered that I already had an avatar. I was sitting next to my husband watching a news program one night when I heard him exclaim, “Oh my god,” when he checked his telephone’s message alert. A colleague had sent him this message. “I think I saw a picture of your wife when I was checking out my groceries at the supermarket.” Helpfully, they sent a picture.
Yes, a picture of my smiling self, graced the bright yellow cover of Women’s World’s February 21, 2022 edition. However, the adjacent caption made it clear the I – or my avatar – was Nurse Debbie Hoffman, who found that “1 lb. a day just falls off. Just sprinkle a day of this powder boosts fat burn by 1,200%” Not only that, Nurse Debbie “lost 101 lbs., + cured her severe joint pain at age 67!” While I was fully aware that I probably existed as a “smiling, healthy middle-aged woman” in some photo database in the cloud. I was not Nurse Debbie, did not have joint pain, and had been aged prematurely by some zealous copy editor.
The photo in question was taken a few years ago during a stock photo session with a father/daughter commercial photographer team. The session resulted in a fee, an assortment of photos I could use for my website and marketing materials, and a signed photo release form. Until this incident, I would occasionally get a text from a friend or family or my doctor with a note and an attached photo. They showed me engaging in healthy activities – like eating fruit, taking vitamins, or brandishing a hand weight. These photos surfaced in my friend’s health insurance newsletters, my mother’s doctor’s office, prestigious medical universities’ home pages (ex: Yale and Mayo Clinic), as a full-size poster in a friend’s mother’s adult assisted-living reception area, and even on the side of an athletic stadium in New Zealand. I felt somewhat comforted because the use of images aligned with my health and fitness values. But I also felt annoyed that these visuals were living on forever, residual-free.
That said, this situation was different. The cover inferred that I was a completely different person. One who lived a life experience that wasn’t true. So, I was annoyed about its existence, the timing, and how I could explain its existence. Meanwhile, my husband couldn’t seem to comprehend my concerns. He was having a great time announcing to anyone who would listen that “I am married to a cover girl” with an annoying level of enthusiasm and frequency. (Believe me, this will be the source of content about the males, marriage, and communication in the future.)
When my Inner Queens girl and I finally stopped venting and paused, I took a deep breath and thought, “Well, if I can’t do anything about me showing up as Nurse Debbie for the next weeks, what can I control?”
So, I drew strength from the humorous wisdom of the Nora Ephron documentary titled “Everything is Copy” because every experience contains a lesson if we pay attention. Then I incorporated Nurse Debbie into my author’s talk.
Whether we communicate with live humans, digitally, or with avatars, the only thing we have total control of is our reactions and how we choose to respond to a situation. In some instances, we will have the opportunity to learn how our actions or presence are perceived. Then we can decide to take the opportunity to explain our behavior’s “why?” with a back story described in a way that provides some context.
But as I learned recently with my supermarket aisle avatar, there will be times when we can’t change a perception. Those moments let us take a step back. They help us assess “how we are showing up for others,” identify what we are doing that contributes to that perception and determine if we need to make changes.
Robert Dickman, the author and business storyteller, and I had a conversation about presenting and communicating. He asked me, “How do you want others to receive you?” and “How do you want to receive your audience?” Those questions gave me tools to build upon.
Because with some reflection, insightful guidance, and even a little humor, we can file the experience. It becomes a “Lesson Learned.” And it enables us to do what we call in Queens an interpersonal communication “do-over.” And that’s what I learned from Nurse Debbie Hoffman, my unexpected avatar.
Julienne B. Ryan is a certified AccuMatch BI coach and the author of “The Learned-It-In-Queens Communications Playbook — Winning Against Digital Distraction” and an applied, narrative storyteller, speaker, trainer, and coach. She believes in the power of listening and is on a mission to improve how we communicate with each other, one authentic conversation at a time. Click on this link to her website to learn more about her services and to schedule a consultation.