Topic of the Day: What’s Your “Thing”?

I loved this piece in the Times the other day about acknowledging our “thing” — “that particular behavior, habit or mind-set that is self-destructive but that we’re completely blind to” — that’s keeping us from achieving our full potential (including a happy relationship). Apparently — and this may come as no surprise to you — something like 95% of us think we’re self-aware, but one study suggests only 10-15% of us truly are. Most of us don’t really know what our “thing” is. That’s part of why people write to advice columnists. Sure, they want advice on a particular issue, but often I believe what they’re really asking is: please tell me what my “thing” is, as you see it, from this example I’m sharing.

The author in the Times writes: “A close friend and I have this agreement: If one of us ever recognizes the other person’s “thing,” we’re bound to disclose what it is, no matter what.

Are you one of the few who knows what your “thing” is? If you had to guess, what would you say? Are you brave enough to ask someone you care about to tell you? Would you tell him or her what theirs is?

For the record, I asked Drew what my “thing” is and he first replied with: “Nothing. You’re totally living to your full potential.” Ha! He’s no dummy. But then I promised him I wanted to know my “thing” and wouldn’t get mad if he told me, and this is what he said:

“It’s not as bad right now [as] in the past, [but] I think your unmanaged anxiety keeps you from living your full potential.” Basically, he’s been suggesting for years that I see a therapist to help treat my anxiety, and my reply is always that I’m too busy — I should say that my lack of self-care doesn’t end at mental health; I haven’t had a physical in YEARS (don’t even have a primary care physician) — and that I do manage my anxiety, through self-medication. But he’s right. I need to address my anxiety in more proactive ways, and I need to prioritize my own health and well-being.

So, what about you? Any idea what your “thing” is? Are you brave enough to ask someone who cares about you to be honest with you? Would you tell someone you love what his or her thing is?


  1. I use food to calm my stress.

    I used to think that everyone else was so full of drama and I had my act together. I would have an excuse for not losing weight. After years of work, I realize that instead of confronting issues, I would stuff my face until that stress was calmed.

    Before my son’s adoption and in the heat of infertility treatment, I gained 80 pounds over 6 years. That wasn’t me handling it.

    1. LisforLeslie says:

      I’m there with you and I make bad food choices all the time. Fruit or cheez-its? Cheez it’s please.

  2. Hmm. Very interesting. I’ve never really thought about this before… and something my therapist, who I think it great, asks a lot of “why” questions. Not “what,” as the article pointed out.

    I’d say my “thing” is, that thing that gets in my way, is wanting to be liked by everyone. I likely say yes more than I should and I prioritize others wants over my own a lot. If I were to ask someone else that question though, a good friend or my husband or my family, he or she probably would come up with a different answer. IDK, I think this can be pretty subjective based on others experiences/thoughts/mindset.

    1. People tell me I’m extremely particular. And I am. I have a feeling most fam and friends would say this about me.

      It can be a source of frustration, but I don’t know if it’s holding me back.

  3. This is so interesting to me. I am going to ask my husband tonight. I DO think I am pretty self-aware, but know I could be living my full potential better/more. And maybe I am not as self-aware as I think 🙂

    I think my “thing” is not asking for help because I am a perfectionist and want things done my way. But then I wonder if that’s really it, or if THAT is a product of what my real thing is…which is ?????

  4. My “thing” is shrouded by a few things. The thing is I don’t let people be too close to me. And what I shroud that with is I’m a workaholic. I work, work, work all the time and take on side projects outside of my job. Now don’t get me wrong I love the career I chose and I’m passionate about what I do. But it gets to the point where I’m so busy, I don’t have time to cultivate new friendships. I don’t have time to spend the money I’ve worked hard for. I make time for my husband. And I say yes to events with friends but it leaves me sacrificing sleep on a constant basis. And I feel that most of my friendships are fairly superficial, save for a couple really close friends.

    1. And to add on to this, people often see me as a social butterfly and I can be, but I don’t let anyone really get close.

  5. My mom has told me some observations on what my “thing” is, and I think she is pretty aware.

    One, I will just give up on things if I think I can’t do them really well, and two, I beat myself up a lot when I make mistakes.

    A lot of things I just don’t even give a chance. I’m like the opposite of a yes person. I’m a no person.

  6. Avatar photo Moneypenny says:

    Ooh, this is a good question! I’m curious what my family/friends would say about me…
    I would say that my thing is, sometimes I want to be the best at something, but I don’t always like being corrected. I don’t even like to “toot my own horn,” but I am secretly competitive. Being corrected feels like a blow to my ego, probably.

    Example: I am not great at tennis. My boyfriend is pretty good at tennis. We play together and he gives me pointers and basically teaches me how to properly play. He’s taken classes and such, and I never have- I just hit the ball. I’m doing a lot better than when we first started and my technique is improving, but I have a lot to improve on. But with all of his corrections, I’m like, ugh, stahp already! Stop correcting me! I’m fine! (Even though I’m really not.) I have to stop and check myself and just be patient.

  7. Mine is definitely that I fear failure and, relatedly, I also don’t take criticism well. End result is that I get really upset internally (and sometimes externally) at even reasonable constructive criticism; so I tend to avoid doing things that I know I won’t be good at to avoid the necessary criticism that comes with learning anything or trying anything new and when I’ve fucked something up (or think I have), I am incredibly hard on myself and cannot let it go.

  8. Hmmmmm I think mine is several things rolled into one. I have this horrible fear I’m going to be fired every moment even though my performance reviews have been consistently awesome. I hate asking questions or looking like an idiot so that feeds it because then I worry i’m missing important info and it all just kind of paralyses me. So… Fear of rejection? Failure?

    1. Avatar photo Moneypenny says:

      Oh man, I have totally felt the fear of being fired at my performance review probably… 9 times out of 10. I usually am afraid I did something wrong that nobody told me about at the time and now they’re springing it on me out of the blue.

    2. I have this fear, too. I don’t know why. I think if any manager left giving necessary feedback about underperforming or straight up telling someone they’re fucking everything up until a performance review, they’d be a pretty crappy manager. In any case, what @MissMJ wrote above really resonates with me and I’d say this fear at work is the most serious way it manifests.

      1. Yeah, that would be on the manager. HR is huge about, it can NOT be a surprise when someone is put on a PIP or let go. The manager needs to have been giving them feedback, and potentially tried a development plan. Next step would be a performance improvement plan to give the employee a chance to fix what’s already been made clear they need to fix. And the terms of that plan would be crystal clear, and they’d give you a chance to mutually part ways.

        Not that they’ll always do it by the book, and they can absolutely include you in a layoff without going through that process, but the chances of you getting a good performance review (which includes areas to work on) and then getting let go are almost none. Or getting poor feedback in a performance review that totally blindsides you… that shouldn’t happen either.

      2. It’s another reason I recommend reaching out to your boss or people you support, maybe on an annual basis, and say you’re looking for feedback to help you improve. Get it by email or take notes, then consolidate it in one place and work on any areas for improvement. If you don’t have reviews, which I didn’t for many years, this is your plan for getting yourself promoted. If you do have reviews, this should prepare you so you go in strong and aren’t surprised. And it conditions you to deal with constructive feedback, which shouldn’t scare you. It’s good to get it!

      3. Oh lord….. Whenever my manager asks to see me for a sec I walk in with this horrible fear that I’m about to get in trouble for something. Every. Single. Time.

      4. @MissDre My supervisor at my last company only checked in with me when he was unhappy with me, and our one-on-ones never felt constructive because I always felt like I was berated. His “feedback” never felt like it was intended to help me improve — it felt like he just wanted to criticize and convey that he was ALL-CAPS UPSET. My current supervisor works out of a different office. I see him a couple times per month and we talk by phone and e-mail daily. I about have a heart attack every time he calls me.

        I’ll have my first review here in a few months. I’m curious to see how it goes since he’s new to managing people as of this month, and he and I are now developing our close working relationship. From what I can tell and the feedback I’ve gotten (from him as well as others), my performance is overall considered good (though I know I have things to improve on). Like I’m working on being more vocal/assertive in meetings, which has always been hard for me. I’m trying to be more confident when I try my hand at things I’ve never done before. I guess part of that fear is that I’m expected to be perfect my first go at something, and the way everything was handled at that last company I worked for reinforced that feeling.

      5. Yeah absolutely none of it is rational, I know it’s all extremely unlikely but it’s a hard one to overcome. Same as MissD I even worry when my boss rings me, it’s so weird.

    3. I have this fear because it happened to me. I walked into work one day – St Patrick’s Day, 2009 – and was met at the door by my manager, who took me up 3 floors to a conference room where her manager was waiting. They sat me down and fired me on the spot. I had absolutely zero idea anything was wrong; I actually thought they were going to give me a raise because I was making about $7k less than everyone else on my team and all my customers/coworkers loved me.

      That was one of the worst days of my life. I had to pack up my desk in six plastic grocery bags and carry it across campus (I worked at a university in the library), sobbing. It was 2009, the middle of the recession. It took me 5 months to find another job, and when I did it was a part-time job in a call center that paid $9.50/hour. I went deep into debt and only started recovering a couple of years ago.

      That being said: that was an extremely toxic work environment. Unfortunately for me, it was my first “real job” out of grad school so I thought that was the way the working world worked. I had straight up PTSD from that experience that persisted until about 2015 when I finally felt safe at my (now previous) company. I was constantly afraid of any constructive criticism or feedback at all, to the point where I’m sure it hindered my professional growth.

      About a year later, both my manager and her manager at that job were unceremoniously fired after the university did an investigation into how many people they were firing for no reason (5 including me), so…screw them. I usually never wish ill on people but I was glad they received that consequence.

  9. LisforLeslie says:

    I have a fear of ending up broke and alone. I am careful with my money but at least once a day I think “When I am living on the streets I will think about spending this $15 on hair gel and be mad at myself for being so wasteful.”

    I have retirement accounts, I’m ahead of where I should be according to the experts, but it is a constant dread of needing to rely on anyone for assistance (yet another issue on which I’m working).

    1. Have you actually sat down with a planner though? We started going to my parents’ FP at Fidelity, and it’s much more reassuring than just doing an online calculator. I figured we were fine, but it’s good to see the simulations for a bad market and an average market. Like, if we just keep doing what we’re doing, in a horrible market we’ll still have money left at age 100. In an average market we’ll have a LOT left (or, I guess, a lot to play with since we have no kids). And that’s without factoring in inheritance. And also without scaling back on lifestyle. If you’re not meeting with someone to assess goals and progress, maybe you should!

      1. LisforLeslie says:

        I have. I’m financially sound. More than sound. It’s simply a persistent neurosis. It runs in the family. My mom worries about money and her financial planner has assured her that she has enough to live until she’s 101.

  10. AlwaysALurker says:

    One of my things is that I’m horrible at keeping in touch. I love face-to-face interaction, hate the phone and am lethargic about texting and email. It doesn’t help that I struggled with some major health issues and depression over the past few years. Unfortunately, many of my closest friends live far away now and that means that over the years I feel like I’ve “lost” some very meaningful friendships. I’ve been trying to repair this for the past year or so with some successes and a few failures.

  11. I’d have to say I’m controlling. I’m aware that I can be a bit controlling and I try to correct myself. It mainly stems from my anxiety. I’ve dealt with my anxiety since I was a child (I didn’t know that’s what it was until my teens). I’ve been able to control it over the years, but recently my anxiety flared up due to an incident at work. It wasn’t a big deal but my anxiety flared-up and in my mind it became a big deal. Thankfully my husband talked me down, but since then I’ve noticed that my mood is down.

    Wendy, thanks for the Amazon link. I ordered the product and I hope it will help with both my anxiety/mood and my RA symptoms.

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