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The Dinklage Trajectory
How much do our physical attributes affect our life trajectory?
For those who have been reading regularly, you know that I talk a lot about the “trajectory” of our lives and how our journey is affected by the events around us. Today, I wanted to stray from “events” and take a look at more immutable factors such as beauty, height, weight, and other physical characteristics.
Fair warning: This is a purely opinion-based discussion. I provide no data to back this up and rely entirely on observational and experiential thoughts.
As you have seen in these tales of joy and sorrow, the events we encounter shape our journey through our lives. How we got from there to here.
But I have often wondered how much our journey is affected simply by our physical attributes and the resultant impact on our self-perception and the external perceptions of those around us. How much of a difference does it make in our lives if we are tall and/or beautiful versus short and/or unattractive. How much different would MY life be if I was short and ugly instead of being as tall and incredibly handsome as I am. [Just kidding of course… or am I?]
I have come to the observational (and maybe obvious) conclusion that YES, our physical attributes can have a tremendous impact on who we are, how we interact with others, what we do with our lives, and how the world reacts to us.
Gravity and Perceptions
We as a species are naturally drawn to beauty, to perceived strength, and even to power. We may not be consciously aware of it, but is a natural function of our human and animal natures.
As a consultant, I have worked in many different business environments and interacted with hundreds of businesses and organizations. I noticed many years ago that there was an unnaturally high percentage of tall and handsome/pretty people in leadership positions in these companies. I’m talking on the order of double, triple, or more than rate in the general population (depending on your definitions of beauty). What would account for this?
Are tall people smarter?
Are pretty people more capable leaders?
Are tall handsome people destined to be leaders?
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I have no evidence of this of course. It is highly unlikely that tall people are genetically predisposed to be smart. So what is the answer?
Remember that it is natural for us to gravitate (even subconsciously) to strength and beauty. Over time, this gravity affects two things:
Internal Perceptions: The reinforcement over time from others that are maybe more willing to talk to us, smile at us, engage with us, and give us opportunities and promotions drives an internal self-perception of confidence, capability, and courage. Note that I said, “self-perception”. Just because someone perceives themselves this way, does not guarantee that that they can actually live up to those perceptions.
External Perceptions: In the business world, we generally try to support people based on their actual capabilities, skills, and accomplishments. However, our animal nature tends to color our perceptions of how we see and interact with other people. If we are naturally drawn to beauty, strength, and confidence (see #1), then we may tend to offer more opportunity to these people.
Internal reinforces external which in turn reinforces internal, driving a continuous feedback loop that promotes opportunities - deserved or not.
NONE of this is meant to negate the capabilities and skills that anyone might innately possess (whether beautiful or not). There are many, many exceptions to this observation. There are numerous short, ugly people who are incredibly capable and talented. Just as there are many tall, beautiful people that that are, well… not.
Attributes vs. Interaction
Remember that it’s generally not the attributes themselves that drive our journey. Our personal trajectory likely has more to do with our interactions with others based on our physical attributes, rather than the attributes themselves. Negative versions of interactions like we discussed above could create a self-perpetuating cycle of negative self-image, self-loathing, and a sense of low self-worth.
Consider a young boy in grade school who is a little shorter than the other kids, needs to wear glasses, and is maybe just a touch overweight. Toss him into a dog-eat-dog environment like our public schools for 12 years and the trajectory of his life will be forged through the heat of daily peer interaction during his formative years.
In a closed environment where the social culture focuses on belonging, being ostracized outside of it on a daily basis can become overwhelming.
The constant negative reinforcement of being on the outside might drive him to internalize the negativity of his peers. His sense of self-worth might take a beating every day and defensive shields will take over to start shaping his perception of the world around him. It’s not guaranteed, but maybe he withdraws into himself. Maybe he throws himself into a solitary activity where he has no need for others. Maybe he never learns any of the social graces and becomes the “weird” guy. It all depends on how he internalizes the external pressures.
BUT —> put him instead in a supportive environment where he has the chance to become his own person, and he might arrive at adulthood with a perfectly normal attitude, well-adjusted, maybe even outgoing and confident. Maybe he loses the weight as he begins thinking about dating. Maybe not. But he is mentally free from the baggage that would otherwise have hampered his personal growth.
As we see, it is not the physical attributes themselves, but the external interactions and how we deal with them. Which brings us to the subject of our little tale.
A Case Study in Choices
There will always be external perceptions affecting our lives no matter where we stand on the beauty scale. How we choose to let both the external and internal affect us determines how we choose our paths in life. And yes, we do get to choose… most of the time.
Do we restrict ourselves because of our self-perceived limitations?
Do we personally take advantage of our shortcomings to use them as a strength?
Do we take advantage of our knowledge that others perceive us in certain ways based on our physical attributes?
Do we use our physical attributes as a crutch to hide our other shortcomings?
As you may have guessed from the title of this tale, the subject of our Case Study is Peter Dinklage, film, television, and stage actor. He is arguably best known for his role as Tyrion Lannister on the Game of Thrones (GOT) series.
So, the question for our Case Study becomes…
If Peter Dinklage was not born with a form of dwarfism, would he be the person he is today? Would his life have taken a different trajectory if his physical attribute (dwarfism) was not a factor?
Take the following with a grain of salt as this is all based on my research from different, and often conflicting, stories and reports from the internet (and we all know how reliable the internet is).
Peter Dinklage was born with a form of dwarfism called achondroplasia. From my reading, it appears that growing up, he often found his condition challenging (no big surprise). As one can imagine, he was not likely welcomed into the “in” groups. Various sources indicate that he was bitter and angry about his condition when he was younger.
At some point though, he came to a decision point - remember our discussion earlier about being able to choose your own path? Dinklage chose.
Rather than succumbing to his bitterness and living life like a victim, he turned to humor to define himself in his own terms. He concluded that any limitations he had related to his dwarfism were other people’s problems, not his. In fact, he quoted a friend of his who told him…
“The world does not need another angry dwarf!”
This change in direction, from anger and bitterness to humor, eventually led him at an early age to acting. This leads us in this context to ask:
If he had not been born with dwarfism, would he have had reason to be angry and bitter?
Without that anger, would he have turned so directly to humor?
Without that impetus, would he have turned to acting as an outlet?
Maybe. Maybe not. If he were a typical teenager of average stature, would there have been that intense drive to define himself beyond his dwarfism? Or would he have just been another teenager trying to figure out life and girls and career?
I do NOT intend to negate his talent and skills in any way. He is a very talented actor and I’ve enjoyed nearly every role he played. But I tend to believe that, in this case, the attributes made the man and I doubt he would have turned to acting had he been a boy of typical stature.
We can never know for sure, but we do know that the combination of his physical attributes, with his attitude to make more of himself, and his natural talent made him an acting force to be reckoned with.
What's the reality of that combination? His career was already well underway before GOT came along, but he likely would not have been cast for the show as it seems that the role was written with Dinklage and his physical stature in mind.
Would they have written the role for him if he had not possessed the physical attributes he has?
Would they have wanted yet another tall strong character for this specific role?
Did they need another one?
No, I believe they needed a counterpoint. Someone who was driven by more than just power for powerful men. The backstory on the character Tyrion was testament to physical attributes making the man.
On a side note, for you GOT fans, you of course recognize the large battle scar Tyrion has on his face. Did you also know that Dinklage also has a real scar on his face from a stage accident in the early 1990s when he was fronting a Punk-Funk-Rap band called "Whizzy"?
He accidentally got kneed in the face, then continued on with the set, wiping the blood from his face with a dirty bar napkin. Tyrion Lannister would have been proud.
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Author and Consultant
Author of “Public Speaking for Kids, Tweens, and Teens - Confidence for Life!”
COMING SOON to a bookseller near you, my latest book exploring the crisis in our K-12 Educational System. Is it time for The Great Education Reset?