Finding self sounds like a strange past time, and yet it is essential if we are to grow and, or to lead. I have observed that some people seem to spend a life-time trying to gain clarity around who they are, whilst others are confident to tell their story at an early age. Telling a story is an apt metaphor for finding self because, self is not a thing, fixed in time, but a process that unfolds just like a story.
Stories have authors and ideally you are the author of your life, although at times, it might feel like other people have been writing it for you. Authors are authorities on their topic, and if you are the author of your life you can be authentic - which is an attractive quality for any leader, or human being for that matter.
Finding self: “I am”
At business and networking functions we are usually asked, “what do you do?” And we respond with, “I am a …” and fill in our job title. We therefore become identified by what we do rather than who we are. Stephen Fry makes this important observation:
“We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, I act – and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.”
When we start a sentence with I am – we define ourselves, and these definitions can be be supportive or destructive. If you say, “I am a failure”, or “I am not worthy”, then these are likely to be self-fulfilling and self-limiting prophesies.
I find it interesting that in both the Jewish and Hindu religious texts, that the name of God, is “I AM”, and so by extension I believe that when we say, “I am” we become the creator of our own world. Try saying this out loud, “I am the author of my life, I am growing and developing my authentic identity.”
Finding Self and Others
Part of finding your ‘self’ is to find out what makes you different, what are your strengths and talents? What is your drive and passion? It is your differentiation that helps you to win and to lead but you must also be able to integrate into teams and society, to be accepted and valued.
Ideally the differentiated self is developed first, so that with self-leadership, it can choose the relationships and groups to collaborate with. In reality we are often encouraged to ‘fit in’ before we have fully developed our own sense of identity. Crisis occurs when who we are told we are does not fit with who we feel we are. According to psychologist, Mihaly Csiksznetmihaly, we must invest equal psychic energy into developing our differentiated and integrated/group ‘self’ to avoid being egotistical or being too secure and lacking individuality.
Finding Self Value
Self-esteem is how much you value your self. It cannot be built through promotions, purchases or partying, it can only be built by accepting your unique contribution and being in awe of your untapped potential. Here are some questions to aid you in finding self:
- What are you really good at?
- What excites you and gets your pulse racing?
- What are you constantly curious about?
- What have you not yet done that you really want to?
- What has been your story so far?
- What will the next chapters be about?
Telling Your Story
The last two questions are about your story. Are you aware that you are writing your story right now? William Shakespeare was right, “All the world’s a stage” and we are all playing a part. Believe that your story is worth telling, and then tell it with passion and confidence. Great leaders are great story tellers, in finding yourself, is your story a good one? If not, perhaps it’s time to change it.