“I choose to experience the grandest version of the greatest vision ever I had about Who I Am.”
—Neale Donald Walsch, Conversations with God, Book 3
“Who do you think you are?”
In our culture, that question tends to be confrontational. It implies that the person saying it thinks you’ve stepped out of line, acted too big for your boots, or otherwise contravened some social convention about appropriate behaviour.
And yet, taken at its face value, it is the one of the most fundamental questions we can ever ask ourselves. Who we think we are will entirely determine the kind of life that we have, and the legacy that we leave.
From the moment we’re born (arguably earlier, depending on your worldview), we begin to create who we are. We are social animals, and primed to fit in with the tribe or else face solitude and early extinction. And so, like chameleons, we morph to blend with our surroundings.
As Jim Rohn said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”.
We become putty in the hands of our family, our culture, the world. We quickly learn that some behaviours earn approval, while others incur more negative responses. Psychologists tell us that as early as the age of two or three we have others in mind when we decide how to behave.
By our teenage years we are extremely self-conscious, and often quite willing to pretend to like this or dislike that in order to fit in with the crowd.
Then we start work, which for most of us involves operating within a corporate culture, where certain behaviours are rewarded with pay rises and promotions, while other behaviours send us sliding down the greasy career pole. And so we conform.
As well as unwittingly absorbing ideas about who you are from those around you, over the years you will have been told may things about who you are, both explicitly and implicitly. As a child your parents may have told you that you are the artistic one in the family, or the intellectual….or, maybe, the one who will never amount to anything.
You may have been told how to behave, or what values to live by, or how to speak, stand, walk, sit. Much of this advice will be well-meaning, intended to help you fit in and be acceptable and accepted, but bringing up a child so often entails covering up the child, in layers of learned behaviours.
Throughout life the process continues. Some statements you will have agreed with, and taken on board as a piece in the jigsaw puzzle of your self-concept. Others you will have rejected. One reason we reject certain notions is because we aren’t willing to believe positive things about ourselves. Others can see those positives but we choose not to own them. We deflect compliments as being false, or because we suspect that the person paying the compliment has an agenda, or because the compliment implies a greater version of ourselves than we are willing to be.
Yet we’re often all too willing to agree to the negative comments that come our way.
Thanks to our innate negativity bias (meaning that we notice negative remarks significantly more than we notice positive ones), those insults sear themselves into our very being, and we ruminate and repeat and reinforce those negatives, doing ourselves a terrible disservice.
Strangely, there is comfort in believing the stories that limit us. It is tempting to play small, because it’s safer. While we limit our power, influence, and impact, we avoid being noticed, which means we won’t be criticised, and if we fail nobody will see.
To believe in our greater selves requires courage, because then our actions must expand to fill that larger self-concept. It is riskier. We will be seen, and noticed, and commented upon. Those with less courage may try to cut us down to their size because our expansion reminds them of their own fear and smallness and makes them uncomfortable. We need to be big-hearted enough to be compassionate for their smallness, rather than wounded by their criticism.
Do you have the courage to do the work? Are you willing to seek and find your innate greatness?
I urge you to find the courage. Not just for yourself, but because the world needs you to be your greatest self. This is not about ego – this is about you being what you were born to be, about honouring your deepest essence, so that you can serve the needs of our time.
And trust me, your true self is greater than any self you can even begin to imagine.
- You deflect a compliment, rather than just saying, “thank you” and enjoying the moment
- You take criticism to heart, rather than seeing it as a gift to enable you to improve (and/or a comment on the critic, rather than you)
- You choose not to speak up in a meeting or conversation, even though you’ve got something important to say
- You notice self-limiting or negative thoughts crossing your mind, such as “they won’t like me”, “they won’t care”, or “they won’t be interested”
- You copy or envy someone else because you wish you were more like them
- You don’t dare to ask, in case they say no
- You prioritise other people and their projects over yourself and your projects.
For now, don’t even focus on changing these behaviours. Don’t berate yourself, or get frustrated.
Just notice. Write them down, if that helps, and see what patterns emerge. Awareness is the first step. Change will start to happen, without you even trying.
The full video version of my interview with Michael Sandler of Inspire Nation is now online. Enjoy!
I’m off to Wales for the next couple of days to speak at a conference in Lampeter. Then Jersey at the weekend for the Sark to Jersey Rowing Race, which started the same year I was born – 1967. I’ll be the guest of Pete and Anne Thomson, who were such an enormous help to me in getting Sedna cleaned up and ready for storage in Antigua in 2006 after I’d rowed the Atlantic. Pete took part in the first ever Sark-Jersey race 50 years ago, and will be racing again on Saturday. I know he’s been training hard. Good luck, Pete!
Speaking of Sedna, if you haven’t checked in on her latest adventure on the Pacific with the Fight The Kraken crew, you can find their latest news here.