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Not long ago I faced the big question: who am I?
You might wonder why. So, here is a short story.
The last few years created a huge shift in me. Moving across the globe with my family and adjusting to the new norms and language not only brought hidden skills to the surface, but also shaped me significantly.
The robust diploma course in coaching was a painful eye-opener: I had a picture of myself, what I was like, and it turned out to be utterly false. I spent hours contemplating “what’s wrong; why does the test say I am introverted when I have always been an extrovert?”
A dog will never turn into bacon, it cannot be real!
Then it clicked…
Who am I indeed?
I am not changing into something new but turning back to who I was meant to be. I have been taking off the uncomfortable, protective garments. Shields, swords, axes, and breastplates which have shaped my thinking and behaviour were there to provide a more controllable, seemingly safer environment. Seeing everyone and everything as a threat had been eating up my energy, turning my focus away from inner growth and creating a false reality: that if I can control everything, I will be safe.
And now, leaving these behind one by one, the real me is coming forth.
Who am I? I am me.
The dog is not turning into bacon.
The bacon-shaped dog is turning back into being a dog.
(I used the word-by-word English translation of the Hungarian saying “Kutyából nem lesz szalonna” because I believe the English saying “Once a thief, always a thief” does not accurately portray the message I wanted to convey with this story.)
Here is my hand.
Let’s start our journey to resilience with the foundations: our identity.
How do we typically define our identity? Where are its roots: is it in the ‘what’ or in the ‘who’?
Are we the ‘what’ we are or are we the ‘who’ we are?
The answer that usually comes up when asked the question “Who are you” is something like: I …
- am a father/mother/single man/woman,
- am a cashier/hairdresser/accountant/CEO/unemployed, and
- have a PhD/haven’t even finished high school/BA/trades.
For more detail we tend to add something like …
I love reading/movies/dancing/tramping/travelling and if we want to be very precise, we talk about our future plans.
We feel content because we thoroughly described ourselves to the questioner. Our roles, our positions, achievements, the direction of our professional journey, maybe even some of our personal details.
So, what we described is what we do. We have successfully defined what we are. But this is not who we are.
This is important because
the roles we fulfil are not anchors that could hold us firmly when life hits.
When we identify ourselves by what we are and what we do, and these get shaken or diminished, what will we do? What can we hang onto? What, or who, will keep us afloat?
We can turn to our friends for support, at least at first.
When people like us for what we are, they don’t like us for who we are, they like what we have.
When we are loved for what we are, where will our friends be when we fall? Who will leave first? And will anyone stay? They love the picture we show of ourselves, not who we really are.
Wait a minute!
Do we show a picture of ourselves?
Yes, we do, all the time. And depending on what this picture is based upon creates a great reflection of how we identify ourselves.
When we look at advertisements, often the main figure is holding a brand new / super / fascinating product and is surrounded by cheering friends.
What does this picture suggest? The friends are fascinated about what that person has. Where can this flow lead us in the unconscious?
If I am going to have the newest / biggest / dearest ‘thing’ my friends are going to surround me, cheer with me, love me. Is this true? Yes, partially it is, they will cheer. However, it is very likely they will cheer for what we have, for what we are – not for who we are.
And at the very moment we need to give up or lose the possession of the ‘thing’ for any reason (lost job, starting a family, health issues) our status in their eyes will more than likely drop. So we will be seen as less desirable, and someone else will turn up with the brand new ‘stuff’ and our friends will cheer for them – not for us.
Why? Because they liked us and connected to us for what we are, or more precisely, for what we used to be.
But why is it so important for us to have all this positive feedback and why does it hurt so much and shake us to the core when these are gone?
When we define ourselves based upon the feedback we get from others, it not only creates a false picture but also a delicate one. Delicate in a way that when our outside supporters (positive feedbacks) are withdrawn we just collapse. There is nothing inside to sustain us. It is false because it is about our ‘what’ not the ‘who’, and when we lose status, we lose the what.
So, what can we do about it?
We must find out who we are.
When we understand our core values and start filtering the world through them, we will find that life can hit us but cannot destroy us.
Bullets still will be fired at us, but we will be able to dodge them: they cannot tear us down by breaking our outside supports, because we have a keel inside.
We have become like a self-righting toy – we are pushed to the ground but bounce back to an upright position. Because now we identify ourselves from the inside out, built on firm ground.
And what about our friends?
Well, we should let go those who left us, and take a look around: there might be a very few who stayed. Who are they?
They are likely to be the ones we have noticed the least; who asked (unpleasant) questions in a very quiet voice – questions which were easy to ignore and dismiss. Their questions made us quite uncomfortable, as they pointed to some of our issues. But why did they stay?
they are the ones who loved us for who we are.
They looked beyond the ‘what’ and saw something in us that was unknown even to ourselves: they saw the hidden treasure in us.
But why then did they ask those painful questions?
a true friend does not say what we want to hear, they say what we need to hear. Even if it hurts.
Who are those friends of yours? And who are you?
Here is my hand.
Here is my hand.