March 7, 2008

A Parable

Posted in About, family, work at 1:43 pm by Michael

Just a little background on this. I’ve been at a leadership training class this week for work, and we had to create a “character sketch” that would explain ourselves to a small group. I wrote this, and thought it might be interesting to some…..


Janus was two-faced, Shrek was an onion, but who has modeled being three faced? Well, I’d like to tell you a story about someone who I’ve come to know who was most definitely in that space.

More importantly though, why? How does someone get to having three faces – the outside, presented version of self, the self shared with the closest of friends and family, and a deeper, very hidden, inner voice.

From One Voice to Two

Jane grew up in a suburban, middle class household, with a stay-at-home mom, a hardworking dad, and two sisters who were more like parents early on, as they were much older than her.

The family was, to the outside world, close and high functioning. Jane’s mom and dad loved her deeply, and they told her so. She grew up in a house full of children – her parents were foster parents for a number of babies (although usually one or two at a time).

Her dad especially though set a high bar for success, and never wavered in his beliefs – which he was more than happy to tell you all about! There was little room for gray in her world, and success was relative.

Growing up, Jane was shy, and more than a little conflict averse. She learned to read the people around her, understand what they wanted, and try to give it to them. In many ways, she was the classic “pleaser”.

At 16 though, right on the cusp of becoming her own person though, something dramatic happened. She almost died, twice. Her own desire to “not make waves” almost lead (indirectly) to an early demise, as she was unwilling and unable to tell those around her that she wasn’t feeling well.

These months were formative for her, and formative for her parents. For her, she realized at that moment that life was brief, and fleeting, and something to be relished. For her parents though, they became even more protective. The timing of this event was crucial – it was on the cusp of her entry into early adulthood, but in many ways, this froze her image in the minds of her parents as a delicate person who needed protection and their constant concern and intervention.

Jane tells me now of being none-too-happy with this extra nesting phase, but being the pleaser that she was, she was unable to confront her parents with her own self-realized view.

Jane considered becoming a doctor, both in that it would be demonstrably a “success” that she could achieve and be recognized for, but also in that this could be something her parents could be proud of.

Again though, fate intervened, and Jane sadly had a true inner geek, that was trying to come out, and became addicted to the quick feedback and satisfaction of being a software developer. Success was immediate and demonstrable. It was also clear – either the program worked, or it didn’t.

On to college Jane went, with some newfound confidence, but also the trait of pleasing and conforming. Jane worked her way through college using her now seemingly valuable skills, gaining recognition for the first time from people she respected that weren’t her parents.

Exiting college, with a job and responsibilities that belied her years, and at the same time in a system with her parents that was still about pleasing and acceptance, the initial two faces were solidified for her – the external face that was about confidence and success (this was the face that made her parents proud), and the internal face where all the self-doubt had to sit. In the world in which she grew up – there was black and white. Doubt wasn’t for the strong, and Jane wanted to be strong, or at least appear so to those that she loved.

The Third Face is Born

Jane had never been that successful in dating or relationships, but finally met someone at 26 who she felt really loved her. However, this was really the start of the third face, as the person that was shown and loved wasn’t the internal, self-doubting, complicated Jane, but the external, confident, now successful, pleasing Jane. Instead of being a force of integration, this relationship lead to more cleaving.

So, here was born the outside face, the family face, but the inside face remained, and it wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Jane focused even more on building up the external face, and driving for success and recognition there. The external face was strong – an ass kicker. This was the place where she could gain self-satisfaction, and a sense of worth. The external face was great at her job – to a point – but that point hadn’t been seen yet – it was still over the horizon, but it was coming.

The family face, well, that one had a lot of work to do. Everyone had to be serviced and pleased. It was overworked and tired.

Predictably, after a time, this relationship ended, but not after a lot of pain on all sides, and careful sculpting on each of these faces. Jane the pleaser remained, and she had become a master sculptor.


Sometime after Jane divorced, she met Sue. Sue was everything that Jane wasn’t. Sue had one face. Sue decided if you got to see that face or not. She was in, or she was out. There was no in the middle. She told it like it was. Sue also loved Jane – all of her that Jane was willing to share, and as a result, the family face faded. She still had to use it with her parents at times, but integration was coming.

Wow, she had pulled it off – she had found the person for her, and was slowly integrating herself into a coherent whole.

Then the bottom fell out.

Jane’s dad died.

Jane’s mom died a little bit too when that happened.

Jane had reached the scaling point on her job, and the ways that she had succeeded before were no longer strengths, but weaknesses. Instead of continuing to move up, she moved sideways, and down.

What had been the source of strength for her was now an additional stressor.

Jane hadn’t always been as open or honest with Sue as she should have been. Sue demanded more, and had done so from the beginning. But, Jane wasn’t ready. Conflict arose – not because of what was in Jane’s heart or soul, but because it was really hidden, and burbled up like tar from a hot road.

Sue almost left, and Jane was terrified.

There was still something else that Sue hadn’t known, and Jane hadn’t told her. Sue didn’t even really know Jane. Who Sue thought she knew and loved was presented as Jim. Up until now, that’s all anyone knew of Jane – all they had ever seen was the face of Jim.

Sue wasn’t happy to have found out that there was more to Jim – the Jane part. She was pissed. Not because she didn’t love Jim or even Jane for that matter, but because Jane wasn’t honest from the start.

The Only Way Out

Jane was faced with an ultimatum – both literally and figuratively – either integrate, or have amazing loss.

The three faces had to be fully revealed – not just to Sue, who now had the whole picture, but to everyone. There was no room to hide, or to be less than transparent. Jane was like an alcoholic, and needed complete abstinence from anything except for total, often brutal honesty.

The integration of these three parts into a whole created an interesting “averaging” of the three.

But the averaging didn’t create mediocrity, the averaging lead to the creation of a whole that was greater than the sum of the parts.

What was an external, hard shell melted. Maybe not completely, Jane’s still a work in progress, but its mostly gone.

What was an internal voice, filled with self-doubt is gone now too. Its really gone, like the footprints on a beach after the tide rolls in.

Instead what’s replaced it is a more consistent, authentic voice. Jane maybe doesn’t appear as strong as she did before. Or does she?

When I talk to Jane now, she’s almost ashamed of the way that she conducted herself for many of her years. It clearly can be overwhelming at times for her. She has embraced the notion of “live, fail, ask for forgiveness, learn, repeat”.

I like Jane now. I’m not sure that I would have liked her if I met her for the first time even five years ago.

You go Girl!



  1. Stephanie said,

    Hi Megan!

    That is an amazing introspective. Well Done!

    BTW, I think the Nightline interview turned out well. I especially liked the part where Brad was asked whether he sees you as a man or woman (although I didn’t like the question itself). His answer really hits home that it really doesn’t matter, that he values you as an employee and manager!


  2. Dana said,

    Sue wasn’t happy to meet Jim. She was pissed. – typo?

    Megan>> Literary license. From the story POV, its about Jane. Yes, I admit that this part is hard to parse, but isn’t all literature a little impenetrable? HA! 🙂

  3. Alan said,

    same comment as Dana. It tripped me up, it doesn’t flow from the previous para:

    >>Sue knew and loved Jim, and so did everyone else.

    >>Sue wasn’t happy to meet Jim. She was pissed.

    Megan >> Ok, I tried to reedit this section to make it clearer, if not harder to read…. better?

  4. Alan said,

    Yes, clearer. We’ll get UE on it now to clean it up. 🙂

    Okay, now to the content. It helps me understand Jane even more. I wonder: if Jane had continued to move up in her career, would she have been less likely to integrate…?

    Megan>> This is one of the reasons why I love Microsoft so much. I wasn’t clear, got two quick comments from ‘softies, and iterated. Yes, we do need a real writer to fix this now. It’s a good thing I don’t need to make a living this way!

    As for the content… hmm. I think the point is that there wasn’t just one event that triggered, but a whole series of events that really drove Jane to reexamine where she really was. For Jane, the challenges at work caused integration of the work-face, but the whole series of challenges forced a reexamination as a whole. The most important change driver probably wasn’t work, but Sue….


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