A Banner Year by Bruce Banner
Have your friends, coworkers or family ever made you feel uncomfortable in your own skin? Sometimes it happens pretty directly — you’ll be doing something you love, or acting in a way that feels natural to you, and those around you will judge you for it. Other times, it can be a little more discreet: you might preemptively dress a certain way around your parents to avoid their ridicule, or maybe you don’t talk about your job with your older sibling because they’re jealous of your career success.
Situations like these are enough to make most of us scratch our heads and think, “who the heck am I, really?” If we’re always changing our personality traits for the people around us, can we ever really have a solid foothold on our true values, morals and beliefs? What’s more, if our closest relationships only exist because we act a certain way to maintain them, are those connections actually authentic?
These are big questions, and they’re exactly the kinds of conundrums our coaching client is going through today. His name’s Bruce, and he’s part of a crime-fighting group of superheroes called the Avengers… kidding, of course. Bruce is… just an average guy going through average problems. He feels like he has two personalities: on the one hand, he’s a smart, thoughtful and compassionate person who values science and human connection. On the other hand, he’s a tough, strong and resilient person — one who can also be emotionally distant, headstrong and stubborn as all get-out.
Bruce finds it tiring to have to constantly switch between his two sides, but it’s his only way of maintaining the relationships he currently has. He’d like find some way to be accepted for who he is, but that seems nearly impossible in his current state. As such, he’s written to us — your friendly neighborhood Character Coaching coaches — in search of help.
Let’s see if we can help Bruce (and anyone struggling with finding acceptance!) tackle some of his identity issues.
Bruce’s first journal entry: what kind of guy am I?
“They want the big guy…they want the smart guy. They want the big guy…they want the smart guy. I need some balance here! Not so long ago, I was doing the work I wanted to do in a country where people saw me for my intelligence. The doctor. Someone who can heal and make the world better. Then this group of ‘heroes’, who I think are my friends, always seem to find a way to lure me in to turn me into the other guy. The big guy. The strong guy. The one who can withstand any beating. But I don’t like that side of me so much, it’s a part of me that I can’t reconcile. It’s a part of me that hurts too many people. I wish I could use my smart guy self to figure a way out of this jam, but I know I am doomed to this cycle.” — Bruce B.
First impressions: smart guy, strong guy
Well, well, well. What do we have here? To us, this looks like a classic case of someone with two totally distinct personalities — ones that, at surface level, don’t exactly intersect. In a lot of ways the conundrum Bruce is describing is relatable, because most of us have this kind of duality to us. We have our tough exteriors that we put on for certain friend circles… but underneath that veneer is an intelligent, emotional person who wants to explore other parts of themselves.
For most of us, struggling with how we show up in the world can be a serious challenge. Sometimes it makes sense to bring different aspects of our personalities to different situations: we’re serious at work, funny with our friends, romantic with our partners, and loving toward our families. Nothing wrong with that, right?
But what if the people around us are trying to make us into someone we don’t want to be? What if our friends and family expect us to show up in ways that feel inauthentic or tiresome? That seems to be what Bruce is experiencing right now, and the weight of that really seems to be dragging him down. In fact, he feels so trapped that he refers to his situation as being “doomed to this cycle.”
That sounds pretty dire, doesn’t it? In order to help Bruce confront his problems and break free from this “cycle,” we’ll need a little information about him. We don’t want to just dump a bunch of general advice on him (nor would we do that to you if that’s what you’re struggling with), so instead we’re going to ask some very specific questions about Bruce’s situation.
For us, we’d probably ask what this “cycle” really feels like to Bruce. What’s the experience of having to code switch on command? Moreover, is there ever any overlap between these two personalities, or are they distinct and completely separate? And finally, what would “balancing out” these two halves of himself look like to Bruce?
Let’s write these questions up formally, and pose them to Bruce. Here goes nothing!
- What does the cycle feel like?
- Does the “smart” guy ever show up or shine through when you’re being the “strong” guy? Do your two defaults ever intersect?
- Define what balance means to you. What does balance mean to your peers?
Next: smart guy, meet strong guy
“Very interesting! Where did you study, Jonathan? The cycle hurts because I can feel the change happening and I physically try to force the change down, but it never works. I always turn into him and it’s impossible to change. Balance to me would be taking on both sides of the personality. The good, the bad…the green…. but just together, instead of this constant flux. My ‘friends’ only want one or the other. They want the smart Bruce or the green guy. So what do I do, coach? Do I live my life in these states or is there a possibility that I can have just one personality?”
After reading this journal, it feels pretty clear that Bruce is experiencing some classic “schoolyard” heckling — his friends want him to act a certain way, despite whether that’s who Bruce really is. It’s akin to your childhood “friends” telling you to do something embarrassing in class to make them laugh, when you’re the one who ends up getting written up for it.
Here’s the thing about friends like that: if they demand you show up a certain way in front of them, and don’t tolerate it when you don’t, then they’re not really your friends, are they? The opposite is true of coworkers. If you’re treating your coworkers as your friends, that’s fine, but it’s important to remember that your goal together is to get work done and get paid. When a coworker behaves in a way that’s not necessarily representative of a strong friendship, it shouldn’t be surprising that they’ve decided to act like that — after all, your relationship is probably secondary to the success of your business.
It's becoming a little more clear that Bruce’s challenges lie mostly in how others see him, and how painful it is to shift between different circles. But rather than focus on the “flux” Bruce is feeling, it might be better to lean into his two different sides, and allow him to experience the best of both worlds. Is there a way to show up as both people around his friends and still be tolerated? Can he get work done as both the strong guy and the smart guy?
Put another way, we’d love to ask Bruce… could you indulge in both sides of your personality and “marry” the two of them so that you feel more at home in your own skin? And is there a way to shut down your friends or coworkers when they ask you to act in a way that you’d rather not?
One more thing before we move on: there’s a concept in coaching called accepting vs. tolerating, which means letting go of some of the anger of your present situation — we’re curious to know if Bruce could learn to accept, or at least tolerate, that he’s two people all mixed up in one. What might letting go of that anger feel like? And what would a world where his friends accept him for that look like?
Let’s write up our follow-up questions and see how Bruce feels about them.
- There’s this concept in coaching of tolerating vs. accepting, and you live your life in this state of anger towards the transition and what you’ve become. What would it look like if you accepted the other side of you…or at least tolerated it?
- Do you feel that your friends only like you for your intelligence & strength? Or do you believe that if you shared what you really felt that they would be ok with it?
The check-in: the smart guy AND the strong guy
“Maybe if I just tried some yoga…. Am I right? I could spend some time away from my friends and all of the noise and do some research. That’s how I got into this in the first place. What’s interesting to me is that I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to fix what I don’t like about ‘the big guy’ instead of just accepting or tolerating that he's a part of me.”
This is a great closing journal for multiple reasons. The first reason is that we actually haven’t directly solved Bruce’s problems. It might sound crazy that we’re calling that “great,” because finding a solution is the point of coaching, isn’t it?
Wrong! In truth, looking for immediate solutions is sort of a black and white way to examine and address the problems in peoples’ lives. Rather than dismiss their challenges as easily solved, it’s better to help people who are struggling take baby steps toward thinking about their unique difficulties in new ways. Just as going to the gym once isn’t going to make you a top-tier athlete, a few journaling sessions aren’t going to turn you into a poster-child for perfect mental health. So we’re glad that concept is on display here!
However, despite Bruce’s journey being far from over, we have made some considerable strides in his path toward self-acceptance. Rather than getting annoyed that he has to show up as the “strong guy” sometimes, Bruce is learning that that’s just a part of who he is, and people like that about him.
More than that, Bruce is tackling his challenges with his friends in new ways. Rather than getting passive-aggressively annoyed that they don’t tolerate him for who he is, he’s taking a step back to reexamine what his relationships with his friends really mean to him. What does he want out of his friendships? And will taking a hiatus allow him to reflect and return as a new version of himself that’s both smart AND strong?
We don’t have the answers to these questions just yet, but it’s extremely promising that Bruce is looking at all sorts of new possibilities. We don’t have time to keep journaling with Mr. Banner at the moment, but we’re quite sure that down the road, he’s going to be showing up very differently in front of his friends, his coworkers and… most importantly… himself.
If you can relate to what Bruce is going through, you might want to give us a shoutout. We can help you sort out how you’d like to be seen by your friends, family, coworkers and more. And while we CAN’T promise you’ll come out of the coaching process as an iconic genius with the muscle density of a 1,200 pound ox… we CAN promise you’ll have a better outlook on your daily life as a result.