We’ve been lied to, y’all!  I know…..it hurts to admit it, but OH MAN have we ever been lied to.  Raise your hand if you’ve been told more times than Steph Curry has dropped a 3  that, “Perception is Reality.”  It was probably innocent at first – somebody taught you that someone’s perception of any given situation shaped their reality.  In that sense, the saying is true.  BUT, we’ve let things get waaaaay out of hand.  In this article, we’ll uncover how the notion, “Perception IS reality,” is gravely dangerous.  We’ll dive in to its inherent laziness, and we’ll work to undo the damage caused by its insane overuse. This week I had a cool opportunity to speak with our summer bridge student-athletes.  I was pumped!  Student-athlete development is all kinds of all up in my wheelhouse.  The topic, however, had me feeling out of my comfort zone and in over my head.

“Making Tough Decisions” was to be presented to a room full of football and basketball players.  How was I, the women’s golf coach, going to relate to student-athletes who play totally different sports.  Team sports instead of an individual sport.  Team sports with large rosters instead of a small roster.  Team sports with large rosters at a time when they were exhausted from the day’s activities AND hungry.

All of that to say — I was nervous. But then something really cool happened.  We used laughter as a common denominator and from all corners of the room people allowed themselves to be authentically vulnerableTOUCHDOWN!  I was grinning ear to ear.

The discussion was frank, honest, REAL, and folks were totally engaged.  And even amongst all the realness that “Making Tough Decisions” in college might provoke (yes, they went there) – those student-athletes handled themselves with a level of maturity and sincerity that made me proud.

It was a gut-check moment for me as a leader.  “Perception is reality” had planted all sorts of seeds of what this session was going to look like, feel like, and therefore be like. They were SUPPOSED to be tired, not really pay attention, and generally want to be anywhere other than in a room listening to the women’s golf coach.

Seth Godin would disapprovingly tell me that, “I let myself off the hook” by being lazy enough to assume that my perceptions would BE reality.  I couldn’t have been more wrong – and, this night, it slapped me across the face in the best way possible.

I learned a valuable lesson. A big ol’ hat tip to the indescribably awesome student-athletes of June Summer Bridge 2017 for being the teachers in the room that night.  Ain’t it funny how things work out?

Perception is NOT reality.  It’s just that – it’s your perception of a given situation or encounter.  YOUR perception that is clogged with preconceived notions, stereotypes, past experiences, thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and judgement. Perception is NOT reality. It's just that - your perception of a given situation or encounter. Click To Tweet

“Perception is Reality” is Lazy:

It’s a lazy thing to say and it’s a lazy thing to believe.  It let’s you off the hook and gives you an excuse not to step in to someone’s else’s shoes.  It’s lazy because it’s the EASY. WAY. OUT. It’s lazy because the majority use it as a platitude to justify our thoughts.

You know like, “Well, perception is reality,” therefore I can go on being ignorant, intolerant or self-centered.  It’s harsh, I know.  I’m in the thick of it too – It’s just as much for me as it is for anybody who may stop in and read this.

“Perception is Reality” is Dangerous:  

It’s dangerous to use the phrase in a way that lets us off the hook.  It’s dangerous because it’s toxic.  When we use it to JUSTIFY in this manner it only serves to further reinforce those stereotypes, past experiences, thoughts, beliefs and judgements.

Y’all, that’s really scary!  We perpetuate our own perceptions by peddling them out in to the world as reality – YIKES! We perpetuate our own perceptions by peddling them out in to the world as reality - YIKES! Click To Tweet

If we use this phrase around others it muddles their truth as well.  The damage can be done exponentially. Lazy and dangerous is never a good combo. This, my good friends, is a cycle we need to work together to break.

Solutions & A Real-Life Example In Action:

In the Leading Beyond Sport Facebook group this week (wait what?  You haven’t joined yet – it’s cool just click here) one member wrote, “When I get my feelings hurt [my challenge is] confronting the person who hurt them.  I always tell myself maybe that person was having a bad day and didn’t mean the way it came across – or that maybe I took it the wrong way. Dealing with hurt feelings….that’s a process.”

I admire her for being candid enough to share this, and I really super duper admire that she acknowledges, “maybe that person was having a bad day and didn’t mean it the way it came across – or maybe I took it the wrong way.” That, in and of itself, is the solution.

To take those few extra seconds to consider the possibility that “maybe I took it the wrong way.”  Said differently (hang with me… here comes the #truth) “maybe my perception is NOT the reality.” The gal that shared this is well on her way to processing those hurt feelings because she is brave enough to consider that maybe, just maybe, her feelings don’t need to be hurt by this encounter.

That maybe she can go on loving that person because nothing inherently bad has happened – that maybe she assigned hurt feelings to herself because she let her perception become her reality. The consideration she shows in those few extra seconds – That’s courageous ya’ll.

I’m privileged to know this sweet lady and call her a friend.  She possesses empathy like you can’t imagine and that makes her a legit superhero in her field.  I think we can all learn a lil somethin’ from her wise words that she shared with deep vulnerability and deeper beauty.

Perception is NOT reality. Reality is reality – and we don’t get to be the judge of that. Let’s work hard not to confuse the two.


When have you used “Perception is Reality” to let yourself off the hook by not putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes?  I’d love to hear about it…..and the other thoughts and feedback you have.  Let your gorgeous voice be heard in the comments below!

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