The famous Afro-American Theologian, Howard Thurman said:
“There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls”.
Ever had someone say “Just be yourself”? ……..JUST???
Who are they kidding? Do they have any idea how difficult that is to truly be yourself? Firstly, to actually know yourself, your mind, your will. And then to willingly bare all, to reveal yourself to the world?
We spend our lives creating personas that we present to the world. We carefully cultivate the way we want to be seen, (particularly on social media) and we are particularly prudent about how much we reveal of ourselves to others, tending to only show our true selves to those whom we trust; family and close friends (Brene Brown calls it showing vulnerability). Personality types determine how much exactly we reveal of ourselves to others; some more than others, we all know someone who ‘overshares’ and someone who ‘doesn’t let the right hand know what the left hand is doing’.
WHO WE ARE is a result of multiple factors; the socio-economic, geo-political and religious culture we are born into, family environment, schools we attend, friends we make; all have an impact on the person we become. Amongst these factors the biggest single one is our close family network. The first five years are the most formative for children, and the family is the strongest influence during that time. Young children are like sponges, soaking up everything. So basically, as children, we are installed with – let’s call it an ‘Operating System’ – in the form of shared family values, beliefs, rules, reward systems and desired behaviours. This operating system runs forever in the background, making all our automated decisions, reactions and responses, making us WHO WE ARE.
We enter into adulthood with the ‘operating system’ that was installed in childhood. Values, rules and beliefs from another era, another generation
But whether we wish to reveal ourselves or not, how much of the personae that we create is really ours in the first place? How well do we really know ourselves?
Take for example an executive who finds it difficult to speak up in meetings, negatively impacting her leadership presence. What happened in her formative years? What was she rewarded or punished for as a young girl? Was rewarded for being “a good little girl” and being quiet for mummy. A child learns early how to please their parents, how to get attention, how to get rewarded. If you were rewarded as a young girl for being quiet you may have difficulty unlearning this behaviour later in life and if you don’t upgrade to a new Operating System, the learnt childhood values and behaviours (the old system) can negatively impact your career. Awareness of the battle between the conscious and the sub-conscious mind is the starting point for real change to happen, as we start to uncover ingrained beliefs and values and the subconscious meaning we give to things, we can uncover who we really are underneath even the personae we have created, and start to truly know ourselves.
A short parable:
There was once a young woman who was travelling on a long journey back home, alone, on foot, through the empty countryside. She lost her way and found herself at a crossroads where suddenly, as if arising from the ground itself, a huge and fierce samurai blocked her way and demanded of her. “Who are you? Where are you going? Why are you going there?” Startled, the young woman stood there silent for few moments, gathering her thoughts before looking up at samurai and responding with a question herself: “How much does your Shogun pay you to guard this land and ask travellers these questions?” The fierce samurai was taken aback by the question but answered “two bags of rice per month”. The young woman tilted her head back, looking directly into the eyes of the samurai and smiled as she said, “I will pay you three bags of rice a month if you will me these same three questions every day”.
This series is titled ‘Finding you’ because that is what coaching is all about. Finding yourself, knowing yourself, building your self-awareness, understanding yourself, your impact on others and the impact of others on you, developing your emotional intelligence; your self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Coaching creates spaciousness within you that allows you to grow, to become your biggest, best, most elegant self.
One of the starting points to build self-awareness is to explore your ‘auto-pilot’ operating system more closely, to understand your values, where they came from. By stepping outside of yourself and looking more closely, with curiosity and without prejudice, at who you have become and the origins of how you became who you are today, you remove some blinkers, you become more aware, more vital.
Your challenge this week is to ask yourself these three questions every day and write down the answers, every day for seven days. If we repeatedly ask ourselves the same questions our brain seeks to find a deeper meaning each time so by the end of the week when you look back over your answers for the whole week you will be able to witness your own journey and your personal growth in how your answers developed.
- Who am I?
- Where am I going?
- Why am I going there?
If you enjoy the task, additional questions to pose yourself are: How will I know that I am there? What will be different / better for me others? Who do I need to become to get there?
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