How to Deal with the Fear of Being “Too Complex”

How to Deal with the Fear of Being “Too Complex”

Written by Claire Nyles Suer

Topics: Confidence, Fear

Hi, I’m Claire. I also go by Nyles. And no, I don’t have a preference for which name you use.

This post is partly a Hello! to the Puttylike community–I’m the new Managing Editor for the blog, and I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself–but I also want to talk about this thing that people keep saying to me.

I’ll introduce myself to someone new: “Hey, I’m Nyles. Or I also go by Claire. Either one is fine.”

And more often than not, I immediately get asked, “Which name do you prefer?”

Now of course, I appreciate that mostly this is coming from a place of courtesy. In particular, I move in a lot of LGBTQ circles, and I think queer folks are especially attuned to being considerate of name changes. Because I present in a somewhat androgynous way, and my two names might be read as two different genders, people might imagine I am transitioning and want to be sensitive to my needs.

But that’s not my specific story… and whenever I say both of my names, I always add, “Either name is fine.” So I am somewhat surprised that since I’ve started using two names, it’s so consistently met with strangers questioning my stated lack of preference, sometimes more than once. It’s made me think more closely about how I present myself… and whether two names is too many.

The Second-Guessing Game

When I tell folks that I go by Claire or Nyles, and I see them get that a blank look in their eyes, I get afraid that I’m being too confusing. I worry that they think I’m a weirdo, or that I’m asking too much of them to remember both names–or that if I don’t consistently sign my emails to them with the same single name, they’ll be utterly bewildered about who they’re talking to.

And I think I recognize a similar fear in other realms, too, including among other multipotentialites. We’re sometimes afraid of becoming too complex, or being what’s colloquially called “too much.” We worry that we’re coming off as inconsistent or flaky. We worry that our desire to do many things is somehow greedy, unfair, or overly taxing on other people.

This fear doesn’t come from nowhere! It’s based on actual things we hear people say to us. Even some folks who say they’re supportive of our multiple passions still express their confusion and surprise when they hear about the projects we’re working on:

  • “Oh, you’re still doing that?”
  • “Huh. So how is that going to help you with [your primary bread-winning position]?”
  • “Oh cool… So are you going to switch careers over to that field now?”

These (usually) well-meaning comments can sneak up on us in the most innocent ways, and sound like hints at the truth: that we need to pick one, because anything else is incomprehensible. It can be especially dangerous when we’re hearing these things from many people around us, or from individuals who we view as successful and worthy of respect. We might start to second-guess ourselves, and think that in order to be successful, we have to be simpler.

It’s questions like these that made me second-guess whether I should continue trying to claim two names equally, or instead prioritize one, so that I’d have an easy answer for the folks who want to know which one I prefer.

But I realized that if I prioritize one of my names for the sake of other people, I’ll have stopped prioritizing myself.

While my fears about having two names are definitely parallel to my fears about being a visibly-multiple multipotentialite… both of these are just reflections of a bigger, older fear: the fear of taking up too much space with my actual, true self. Since I recognized that oldie, it’s been easier to combat my inclination to squash myself down into something smaller, simpler, and less true.

Here are some thoughts I use to help me fight the fear, and stay un-squashed… maybe these things will help you, too.

We’re Not Too Complex

Honestly, having two names shouldn’t be too much of a hurdle to understand. Some people go by a legal name and a nickname. Others have two versions of their name, like William and Billy. And for just about everybody, we don’t have any trouble conceptualizing that they have both a first and last name.

The real hurdle is that people don’t expect two very different first names, without any system for when one might be used versus the other. It’s unusual. I’m breaking a mold, and they have to take a moment to wrap their head around it. They have to think about it, and put effort into understanding what I need.

As multipotentialites, our problem is not that we’re fundamentally too confusing or complex for other folks.

The problem is that our culture imagines choice in binaries: “You’re either this or that, you can’t be both.” We all have built-in binary expectations about a lot of things, and moving away from that model takes time and effort. Other folks may need a moment, or even a year, to wrap their heads around something or someone that breaks the mold. Shoot, we might need a moment, or many years, to understand ourselves as individuals who are outside of a given mold.

And some folks might be fundamentally unwilling to put effort into understanding us. But as nonbinary activist Jeffrey Marsh reminds us: “Our job is not to become simpler when other people find us too complicated.”

(These same principles apply for people who use more than one set of pronouns, and bisexual people, and polyamorous people, and many other people who’ve been told they’re “in a phase” or “greedy” because they don’t have a simple answer to common “either/or” questions. Complexity isn’t the problem; an unwillingness to engage with others’ complexity is.)

So: I don’t always have to explain it all to everyone. There are many times when I introduce myself as just one of my job positions, or with just one name (and that feels fine, because I like my jobs and names individually, too!). There are days when I need to conserve my emotional and mental energy, so I choose to let folks only see one part of me.

But even if I don’t always outwardly and vocally champion my fully complex, plural, integrated self, that doesn’t mean I can’t be that self. I’m Nyles, and Claire, in any order, all the time.

There Is No “Too Much”

It’s been helpful to me, as I embrace the weirdness of having two names and three-plus very different jobs, to remember that we’re all weird and deeply complex. 

There’s no specific allotment of mental energy within which other people must totally understand us. On the contrary… to truly understand each other, we all have to put in quite a bit of effort. And that’s a beautiful, multiplex process. 

It’s also been helpful to remind myself that change is healthy. If someday I decide I do have a preference between my names, or if one of my current passionate interests isn’t my cup of tea next year–that will be totally okay. It doesn’t mean I’m currently confused, and that my future self is my “real” self… it means that right now I’m being true to myself, and hopefully in the future, I’ll also be true to myself.

Lastly: it’s been empowering to find the people who love both and use both of my names (sometimes at once! I love when someone says “Hey, Claire Nyles!”). It doesn’t have to be everyone in my life, but having at least a few people who validate my decision to use two names makes me feel seen and loved.

Similarly, it’s been crucial to me to find a community of people who understand my multipotentiality through and through: in short, other multipods. These are folks who also deal with other people’s surprise and confusion about their multiplicity. We can help each other navigate those moments, and reaffirm each other in all our individual complexity.

It’s that support and community which makes me so excited and glad to be working for Puttylike. I love that I get to edit multipod writing for multipod readers like you–and I can’t wait to get to know you all better.

Your Turn

Are there things people say to you that leave you worrying that you’re too complex? Do you have other strategies to combat that feeling? Share your tips and stories with us in the comments below!

Claire NylesClaire Nyles Suer (she/they) is an editor, writer, designer, and community builder. They are the Director of the LGBTQ Community Center in their city, and are working on their first novel (which includes disgruntled millennials and pirates). They also like hiking, facilitating workshops, organizing systems, designing logos, and playing the ukulele. They’re all about empowering people by helping them communicate and connect – to ideas and to other folks.

44 Comments

  1. Joshua says:

    I’ve found a sea-change in describing what I do over the years. I grew up at the end of the ‘one job for life’ generation and the fact that I had had multiple jobs was considered flaky (by me especially). Now, I am happy to say I am a library manager, published author and inventor. And now, my multiple skills are more useful than ever… let them make the extra space. Plus someone I used to work with said it was our duty to help people rise to embrace us rather than just descend to their level. Discuss!

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      What an awesome combo of jobs! Glad you could relate!

      I like that quote… I think it’s our duty to take care of ourselves, first and foremost– but yeah, I like the idea that we’re *helping* other people when we continue to be our un-squashed selves :)

  2. This so resonated. I have often been told that I am “too much”. I was told by someone after my divorce that my ex (25 years married) was intimidated by me because I was good at many things (although not at the same time). He was an is a unipod in the truest sense. Discovering this site and the book and other multipods has been empowering.

  3. Neil Hughes says:

    Hi Claire Nyles! I love this post :)

    I feel like it taught me a lot – about you in particular, and about people in general.

    I especially loved the part about people thinking too much in binaries and pre-existing mental categories.

    Also, it struck me that sometimes when people say “I don’t have a preference” I might interpret them as _possibly_ saying “I have a preference, but I’m concerned I’ll sound like I’m taking up too much space by expressing it”. Sometimes – if it feels like that’s what they’re saying – I try to make it clear that if they do have a preference (about whatever it is) then I’d genuinely love to know it.

    It hadn’t occurred to me that that might sound that I’m disbelieving the very concept of them not having preferences..! I suppose this is second-guessing from the OTHER side.

    (Honestly, it’s amazing that humans ever manage to communicate at all, given how complex even simple interactions become!)

    Anyway, thank you for the stories and the food for thought :)

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      Ahhh Neil! Thank you so much, this means a lot! :) :)

      And that’s so real, I hadn’t thought about how folks worry about taking up too much space, whether they have a real preference, or no preference! Now that I think about it, I definitely know folks who’ve held back their name or pronoun preferences in the name of “flexibility”… how sad is it that our culture makes us think we have to accommodate others’ convenience to the point of sacrificing our names? This is definitely part of why I get questioned on my no-preference so much. Yikes.

      Seriously, couldn’t agree more: it’s amazing we (humans) can ever get on the same page!

  4. Margi Batson says:

    Hello Claire Nyles and welcome, you’ve taken on a rather busy role here no doubt. I wish you well. I don’t visit here often but when I do I always enjoy reading, it makes me smile. Not that I don’t smile, I do often, it just makes me smile more.
    My given name is Margaret, I prefer Margi, but for some reason it hasn’t ever been an easy name to get across and I don’t know why. It’s often interpreted as Marji, or Margo or Maggie. I’ve learnt to answer to them all, and as a 71 year old I don’t think it’s about to change any time soon.
    And I must add, for years all the certificates I’ve gained for anything and everything have had my ex-husband and then my daughters saying, “something else? what another one?”
    It’s been so liberating to know that I’m one of many :)

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      Thank you Margi! I love your name! I’m sorry people get it wrong :(

      I’m so glad you found us here and we make you smile some more!! That makes me smile!!

  5. Kalliope says:

    OMG! I AM JUST, LIKE, “OMG, YES!” Now visualise wildly gesticulating arms anywhere. People are simple creatures to figure out as they are all mostly the same. The meta-language of society needs to change in order the reflect the changes of society, and consistent use of names and labels further embeds that identification within the collective understanding.
    OMG I GO OFF ON TANGENTS AND I DIDN’T EVEN ANSWER YOUR QUESTION! (you have no idea how long I’ve been sitting on this comment trying to think of just the right thing to say.)
    I am complex and have always liked that. However as much as I love the complexity of conscious cognition, my outward appearance doesn’t match the chaos and crazy that goes on inside my mind. My strategy is self-censorship. I am professional in public, but in private I am profane. I’m fortunate to have that freedom of self expression, but the constant struggle is knowing THE TIME AND THE PLACE to open “the exhaust valve” of my mind, and when to shut it again. LOL

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      I hear you Kalliope! (It always takes me forever to write comments on things.)

      I am glad you love your complex self :) And love the “exhaust valve” metaphor! I hope you keep finding a balance that works for you.

  6. Debi says:

    Loved this post and it hit my mailbox at just the right time. I am definitely of a generation who felt it necessary to pick “something” and stick with it … I didn’t fit in then, and don’t fit in now. With us 60-something folks, finding a “fit” anywhere can be a real challenge. I think I have felt the pressure of being too complicated. I know I tried to rein it in for a while, but that just doesn’t work for me and trying to figure out the “one” was driving me not only to distraction but also to despair. I’m still finding myself … and for the first time in a LONG time … I’m enjoying the journey.

    Thanks for sharing and congrats on working with Puttylike.

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      Thanks Debi!! I’m so glad you’re at a point where your journey feels good! That’s so important and I’m glad it’s among us here at Puttylike :)

  7. Edward says:

    Clair Nyles is my unofficial boss @ that mentioned LGBTQ community center. I volunteer there after moving here from NY a year and a quarter ago. I looked 4 a place to fit in after leaving a larger LGBTQ center back in NY where I volunteered and worked part time picking up the youths @ their home 2 bring them to different programs @ the center. I first joined them just 2 get out of my house after being hurt in a vehicle/ pedestrian incident where I was the pedestrian. Very quickly I found a second family @ the center.

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      ED! Aw, I’m so glad you found me over here on Puttylike! And I’m so, so glad you found North Star and I found you there <3 We have a pretty amazing thing going on at North Star, don't we? :)

  8. Liz Ness says:

    This is exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you so much for telling your story. I recognize a great deal of myself in it and appreciate your courage so much.

    I often cope with my complexity by trying to simplify it for others. However, recently, I’ve realized that I need to (I’ve become driven to?) follow my inclinations (be they complex or not) where they lead. There is so much innovation and discovery in that place where few can travel. I owe it to myself and others to go there and learn what I learn. So I guess it’s morphing from coping to embracing. =)

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      Liz, thank you so much for your comment. Glad you found something useful in my words :) I hope you keep following your passions and exploring and embracing!

  9. Melissa A Bettcher says:

    What a fantastic post! I too have felt the pressure to just choose something or just identify as one type of person. Heck even my Hogwarts houses and MyersBriggs tests can’t decide which category I fit into. I am learning slowly that I can be this and that at the same time and that I don’t have to choose just to make people more comfortable. Labels are a tough thing to navigate. They are useful in delivering a lot of information in a short space but they can also be very prejudiced and too simple and very rarely take into account other aspects of a person’s personality and experience. Glad to see I am not the only one who struggles! Thanks again!!!

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      Omg. I have been sorted into three different Hogwarts houses the three times I took the test. On the four Myers Briggs scales, I fall nearly into the exact middle on three of them! Talk about difficult to categorize!

      So I feel you! I think you’re right, labels can be really limiting. I appreciate their ability to connect us to other people with shared experiences, but so often they can just be more walls to box us in. One of my strategies is to collect labels (including ones that may appear to contradict each other) even more zealously than I collect names! Lol.

      Good luck navigating that, and good luck choosing to not choose!!

  10. Sue says:

    I enjoyed this post, thank you Claire/Nyles and thank you to the folks who have so far commented. I am also a sixty something so I was in sixth form during the late “what are you going to be when you grow up?” generation.
    Family asked the traditional question of “what are you going to be?”, and I had no idea at all, I just knew what I liked spending my time doing. Then school asked “what and where are you going to study?” and that question was much easier to answer.
    Some years later on a train journey I got chatting with someone (he worked at Kiel University it turned out) and I remember our conversation because he was the first person I’d met who reacted positively when I said “I never know what I want to DO, but I usually know ‘the what and the when’ of what I want to do NEXT.”
    It was a revelation to me there was an alternative approach to the usual, picking a profession and being a success or a failure at it, and I found it really empowering. I have had many roles, not all of them headline acts or great successes, but the best choices were always made when I listened to myself instead of others. So what do I want to be if and when I grow up? I want to keep on being me. :-)

  11. Kayla says:

    Hi Claire Nyles when I started reading your blog post I had tears in my eyes, I’ve been too much a lot of my life I’m disabled and I’m also non binary and a multi pod too so a lot of people don’t understand me! It was really refreshing to read something that said I’m not too weird or complex! Sometimes I feel like if I just would conform to what everyone wants it would be easier but then I realized that life would be boring!!

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      Hi Kayla! I’m so glad you commented, I feel this so much! We’ve gotta start a new mantra: “You’re never too weird or complex, you’re just you”!

      Best of luck staying true to your beautiful self! :)

  12. Diann says:

    As someone who wasn’t able to embrace her “complexity” until late in life, I have been taking account of the high cost of attempting to conform to the norm. I always imagined that I was doing a reasonably good job of squishing, squashing and squeezing myself into what ever box I was supposed to be in, but I’m pretty sure I was always brimming over or spilling out somewhere. Eventually it just let to a full scale rebellion – against the church, my marriage and the confines of my former profession. My last straw moment was when a petite woman was irate with me for daring to wear 4″ heels because I am 5’10”. She simply could not get over it and repeatedly asked me “Don’t you think you’re tall enough already?” A

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      Goodness, people get excited about the weirdest things… WEAR THOSE HEELS DIANN! So glad you are moving beyond all of those confines and being the whole person that you are :)

  13. mania says:

    Hi claire Nyles suer
    Happy to hear your story and that you’re happy now
    I was in bad mood when I saw your title and it remind me I’m not alone
    Actually I don’t like my major anymore and don’t want to study it but things I do now aren’t like a major they look like little hobbies so It makes me unsure of what to do
    I have some troubles with telling family I don’t want my current major
    But cause I’m not very sure of what I should do after quitting it I can’t persist on quitting my major
    And cause my major has a good impress in society my family wants me to get the degree
    And on Monday my classes starts and now it hurts
    Hope i find my happiness soon like yours

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      Aw, I’m sorry! Sounds like you’re in a tricky spot, for sure… I hope you get to read some other stuff on Puttylike, and maybe find some in-person community and support around the things you are interested in pursuing… maybe that will help you figure out how to navigate this. Good luck!!

  14. Faye says:

    Did you ever read the Phantom Tollbooth (I think by Norton Juster)? I loved the Dodecahedron character and your article made me think of how that character had 12 sides all part of the same being!

  15. Annie says:

    “a bigger, older fear: the fear of taking up too much space with my actual, true self” – THIS!!!

    I’ve been struggling with the self-doubt and fear, trying to really put my finger on the underlying blockage. This is exactly it and what I needed to hear today. Thank you for the inspiration!

  16. Sonja says:

    Hey Claire Nyles,

    Thank you so much for this post! I literally grew up with the permanent accusation of my family of “being too much” of everything. It was mostly combined with the question “Who do you think you are?” (to take so much space, to be so curious/emotional, to do all those things you do, to even want more … – like you need a special permission or it would be allowed in exchange with any special performance, but right now you are NOT ENOUGH)

    And although I’m trying to “allow” myself being all of my facets now, I still find myself discovering that negative doctrine in my thoughts when it comes to “judge” other people for their “complexity”. This kind of BlaBla in my head can be very annoying. On the other hand I find myself still reserved when it comes to communicate all of my interests or projects to others because of my existing fears to overstrain someone. So there’s work to do…

    Thanks again!

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      Thanks for your comment, Sonja… I feel this, and yeah, we’ve all got work to do. There’s a lot to unlearn and rewrite! Good luck to you :)

  17. Hi Claire Nyles! Great article. It’s immensely helpful to me, and on a broader scale, brings awareness to a movement that has to happen in the world. We’re seeing blatant attempts to narrow our social and political landscape to a binary view – you’re in or you’re out, a patriot or not, for or against, one of us or other. It’s damaging and very regressive. Humans are capable of so much. As individuals, we need to continue to embrace our many layers and allow people to expand their awareness. It will take time, but there’s been a lot of progress just in my lifetime (I’m 63). Happy to see this discussion and be reminded of the perfectly inconvenient messiness of life. Thank you.

    • Tracy says:

      I agree, Joan. I spent most of my life (I’m 62), trying to ‘pick and stick’ to one things because of pressure from, well, everyone. In the end, it made me sick to the point of becoming disabled. Then, I still got that from everyone.

      I had to quit trying to do the ‘bread-and-butter” stuff. But now I’m feeling more relaxed and can pursue my many interests. I don’t necessarily get to ‘do’ everything I want, but I get to research and experiment, and don’t feel the need to explain myself so much.

      Thank you for your comment! I have seen this binary view (and been part of it when I was younger) for years, and am glad to see people stepping out of the box.

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      Hi Joan, I totally agree, I see this battle everywhere right now, especially in politics. And I totally agree, this effort to make everything a binary just hurts us as a whole. Thank you for your comment, I’m glad you got something out of my article :)

  18. Anna Heloisa says:

    Hi Claire Nyles!
    “we might need a moment, or many years, to understand ourselves as individuals who are outside of a given mold”
    I’m still trying to deal with it. I’m usually okay, but people throw me back in a sea of doubts once in a while…

    My parents gave me two names and I like them both. Sometimes I introduce myself as Anna, sometimes as Heloisa. But I always sign emails with both to avoid problems. During college, there were other Ana in classroom, so my classmates called me “AnnaHelo” (and they were AnaClau, AnaJu). It was kinda cute, I really enjoyed it. But today people ask if I’m in some sorte of identity problem…
    Lately I’ve been dealing to the same sort of questions about carreer changes, what I listen most is “oh, so now you are into “this subject”.” Specially in my own family. It’s hard for me to deal with this incomprehension (I’m always afraid I’m doing something really wrong with my life).
    Thanks again for the inspiration. It’s a frequent effort to deal with my supposed oddity. Your article hit my email in a very fortunate time. Thanks a lot for sharing. <3

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      Hi AnnaHelo! :D So glad to meet another person with two names! I love both of yours, they’re lovely. I’m glad you enjoyed my article… I hope in time your folks will understand and love your beautiful multipotentiality :)

  19. insert name here (Joe) says:

    Hi Wonderful,
    “Would but a rose by any other name smell as sweetly?” They try to put us in little shiny boxes with lables on a shelf. These people with their names and guessing games of who we are and what we do. As an old Multi who has many names and hats, we have learned that the only ones who need names are the ones who want to control who we are. When we set with our friends and family rarely do we use a name. When we work with people every day we often forget what title or last name they have. So realy what is a name but a lable used by unfamiliar people to give them control of our lives.

  20. Kristin Wong says:

    Loved this post, Claire Nyles! Especially this reminder: “There are days when I need to conserve my emotional and mental energy, so I choose to let folks only see one part of me.”

    When your identity doesn’t fit neatly in a box someone else has created, there’s this underlying, persistent pressure to have to explain who you are to people who don’t understand. That’s a lot of responsibility! Particularly when navigating that on your own can be emotionally challenging in and of itself. This is a good reminder that it’s okay to take a break :)

  21. Sandra Dolk says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this Claire Nyles. I don’t know why (because I wasn’t aware of it until I read your post) but I totally recognize your fear of taking up too much space…
    The crazy thing is that I have been a life coach and trainer for many years helping other people getting over fears like this and encouraging them to follow their heart no matter what. Can you believe it!!
    Over the past few years I have been stepping back from this work slowly as it wasn’t fitting properly and recently I’ve decided to quit completely. It is about time to start doing what I really want to do (I am a 47 year ‘old’ multipotentialite) which is telling stories through art, both in writing and drawing / painting.
    It’s scary to put myself out there, but knowing that there are more people like me, encourages me to continue my – to other people – tortuous path. I have no other choice… :)

  22. Chelsey Baxter says:

    I am so happy when I get an email and it is from Emily because I finally feel like I have found a group of people who just get me!

    I recently went for an interview and just left there feeling frustrated once again.

    A little about me: I am an interior architect and a graphic designer and currently becoming a blogger, I have studied some psychology, English and various other things, I am learning to play the guitar and how to speak Italian. I am an avid adventurer, geocacher and I paint.

    Anyway, back to the interview; I went in there to get a job as a designer and I was told that because of how I am dressed, I don’t seem ‘arty farty’ enough. Hahaha, what the hell does that even mean? I dress for an interview and then get critiqued on it because on the outside I don’t look creative….NICE ONE!

    Anyway, my rant comes down to I love all of you and you are awesome! Thank you, Claire/Nyles, for this blog post, I needed to be reminded again!

  23. Susan Bruck says:

    Hi Claire Nyles,
    Thanks for writing this post. I see there are a few of us 60-ish people here. I’m just coming around to embracing my multiple potentials–and I still worry about taking up too much space and bothering other people or inconveniencing them by who I am. And I’ve always been self-conscious about my changes of interests. But I’m learning to accept myself and enjoy the ride. And I’m inspired by you–thanks for having the courage to be yourself and use your two names and to write about it.
    It’s only recently that I noticed how weird it is that we think about so many things in binaries. And once I started thinking about it, it seemed weirder and weirder.

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