Last week, at an internal company golf retreat, all my work over the past six months was decimated with one casual comment.
Towards the end of the round of golf, after I consistently had been hitting the ball long and straight off the tee, my coworker in an attempt at a compliment said that I reminded him of a professional golfer.
He told me, “Yeah, he’s a real scrawny guy but he hits it a ton.”
Scrawny!?! Of all the words he could use in relation to me, he chose that one?
For someone who has spent the past year training to compete, putting hours upon hours in the gym, the word stung.
If he thinks I am scrawny, he should see the picture of me from January when I only weighed 161 pounds.
I’ve made great gains since then. Now, at 175 pounds, I would hope to never be considered scrawny anymore. Perhaps if I flexed a bicep, he might reconsider?
The cold hard truth is that at 32 years old this type of comment makes me feel that I still lack presence.
It is fine to be a scrawny kid, but that term needs to be left behind when you become an adult, buried in the sandbox.
And the reality is that besides just my physical build, I still have a ways to go with my confidence and how I carry myself to feel like I have a substantive presence.
I still get carded at bars. People tell me it’s a compliment that I look young, but there comes a time in your life, especially when you are 10 years out of college with a graduate degree, a full-time job and in your 30s, that you stop wanting to be mistaken for someone just escaping the pimples of adolescence.
I want to be perceived as an adult. I don’t want my parents’ friends asking me upon introduction what I am studying in college.
I don’t want my coworkers thinking this is my first job out of college. I want people to look at me when I enter in the room and wonder, “Who is that man?”
I inevitably connect my sense of presence to the physical. While I now have a more muscular build, I still look like just a skinny guy.
Lean is the nice word for it. Despite my height, I sometimes look shorter than others because I am not as physically commanding.
But then again there are plenty examples of men who have presence no matter their height or weight or build.
One of my absolutely favorite shows is Mad Men. I am one of many viewers who loves the character of Don Draper, no matter how badly he behaves, because he is a man and has presence.
While his hard drinking, smoking and general treatment of women is offensive, you cannot deny that he commands the room when he enters.
He’s confident, he’s charming and he looks like a million bucks in his gray flannel suit. No one confuses him for a kid. Instead, they hand him a martini and a cigar and ask for his opinion.
He might seem like a dated sense of manhood, but the fact is that it still resonates with us today.
Compare Don to Pete Campbell, a sniveling insecure person. We take joy in his undoing because he is a jerk and he is weak.
He wants to be invited to the board room, but is constantly undermined and undervalued. The constant offense leads him to lash out and only further dig himself into a hole.
It is all due to his lack of confidence, despite the fact that he is a very smart, talented guy.
Pete lets others intimidate him and shows it is in his body language. When he does pull his shoulders back and speak up for himself, it comes off as annoying and unnatural. He seems aggressive rather than assertive.
Unlike Don who always seems in control (at least when he is sober), Pete lacks a clear sense of self.
He is not physically imposing and his lack of presence makes him appear even smaller than he is. Next to Don or Roger, one might even call him scrawny.
More important in comparison than any fictional character, my father has presence. My family lovingly calls him “Mayor Bob” because he makes friends instantly with everyone.
He strikes up a conversation with anybody and everybody – most famously while waiting on line for the urinal at Yankee Stadium.
He is a really nice guy, but goes beyond any niceness I ever embody because his confidence allows him to shake hands and kiss babies without hesitation or concern what others think.
My Dad is tall and broad shouldered and looks like he can win a fight if he needs to. He carries himself with authority, but never with condescension to others.
He is a natural athlete and fills a room in the best way possible with his energy and humor. He defines presence for me.
So is my feeling that I have a lack of presence just a euphemism for saying that I lack confidence? Maybe. Is continuing to get stronger and bigger really going to change anything? Maybe not.
I am starting to come into my own these past few months – something that has been brought about through competition – but I need my physicality to better match my age, experience and personality.
I believe I am a memorable person but often don’t catch the attention of many early on as I just appear to be nothing more than a nice, young scrawny guy.
I lack authority, despite having the qualities of a leader. I lack respect, despite my credentials. Too often I am underestimated and undervalued.
I recently went on a few dates with a gal. I didn’t bring up my training on the first date and so when it came up on the second, she was shocked when I told her I was into CrossFit and was going to compete in the Dakota Games. She told me she never would have guessed.
Her first impressions told her I was a bit more unassuming than the truth revealed in conversation.
Something about how I carried myself gave no hint that I am an athlete who lifts heavy stuff.
I’m tired of the assumptions people make. And I’m tired of the assumptions I make about myself. I have to do something about it.
I need to continue to bring about the needed mental and physical change required so that I can start feeling like what I am – a MAN!