Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Who Am I

We are happy to share an article from our friend Tim Brodie, a veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Force, executive coach, mediator, and group process facilitator titled Who Am I?

Who Am I?

Ever since Freud developed his theories of psychoanalysis in the late Who Am I19th and early 20th centuries, psychiatrists, psychologists and then coaches have known that we need to find a way to liberate the authentic soul, the unvarnished full potential, that is the essence of our client. Oftentimes, because of the baggage collected from life’s experiences, the liberation of this pure energy can be difficult, and the coach’s job becomes one of helping lift the veil in order for the true self to be revealed. It leads to a fascinating question. Who are we; really? I mean it. Who are we?

Years ago, I was made responsible for hosting a gathering of 100 conflict resolution experts from across Canada. These folks were skilled in asking curious questions that would get to the root of a problem. The icebreaker I chose was something that I thought would leverage their skills. It was called the “Who Am I” game.

Each of the 100 participants was given the name tag of a Canadian celebrity.  It was one of those sticky things that said “Hello, my name is ….” and it was put on their back without their seeing it. They had to figure out who they were by asking questions of the other participants. The rules were simple. Only one question could be asked of each person and when you figured out who you were, you moved your nametag from your back to your front. In bold letters on the screen at the front of the room was the slide that said “Who Am I” game.

I watched in amazement as these experts in digging deeper resorted immediately to closed questions and completely ignored the one amazing open question that glared at them from the front. For 20 minutes these folks wandered about with only a minority being able to shift their nametags from back to front. No one simply asked that all important question:  Who am I!

In the conversation that followed we discussed the deeper learning from this experience. The first lesson was that we typically make things much harder for ourselves than they are.  There was only one solid rule to the game: only one question per person. When we talked about why no one just asked the one easy question everyone agreed that it seemed too simple and must have not been allowed.  The other conclusion that we all came to was the importance and power of that one seemingly humble question. It’s brevity belied it’s wallop. Who am I?

Isn’t that what our clients are begging us to ask them? Isn’t that what they are desperately trying to uncover? Through pleading eyes, they unconsciously are asking us to help them rediscover the beautiful and powerful essence that is their true self. So, where do we start?

I was at a workshop years ago that was facilitated by noted author Wayne Dyer. When determining who we are, he said postulated these four caveats about who we are not:

  • We are not what we do because when we stop doing it, we don’t cease to exist. I learned that lesson clearly when, after almost 30 years’ service, I retired from the military and hung up my uniform; never to be worn again. I thought I was defined by that clothing but the morning after my retirement the sun still rose, the birds still sang, and I still existed. Nope, we’re not what we do.
  • We are not what we own because when we lose those things, we don’t cease to exist. My 19-year-old self learned this lesson on the 1st of December in 1979 when I drove my Trans Am car into the side of a van and wrote it off. I loved that car and thought it really defined who I was. Yet, on the 2nd of December, the sun still rose, the birds still sang, and I still existed, without my car.  Nope, we’re not what we own.
  • We are not separate from one another either. We create gossamer threads as we go about our day and our connections with others have potential for great meaning. I remember going through a drive-through for my morning coffee on my way to work one morning a few years back. The young girl that gave me my coffee had a smile that started my day with joy, so I told her. For about a year after that, it didn’t matter what station she was working when I drove through. She would stop what she was doing and come wish me a good morning with one of those thousand-dollar smiles. It was a wonderful way to start the day, and I bet it felt great from her side too. We really aren’t separate from each other when we have that kind of ability to influence the folks around us.
  • Neither are we our reputation.  That’s just a pigeonhole created by others to describe who we are from their perspective. If I defined myself by my reputation, I’d get caught up in trying to ensure you all liked me rather than being my truly authentic self. Even worse, I might start to believe the myth about who I am. Even a great reputation can be limiting and constrictive.  I’m not a great person all the time.  How can I be?  I am a human with the potential for greatness and the tendency to stumble. My imperfections are as much a part of me as my talents. So, who are we?

My friend, mentor and all-time super nice guy, Rick Carson, spells it out clearly. When we’re born, we have this core of truly authentic self that’s pretty darn great. Then, as we live, we develop beliefs about our self and the world around us. Beliefs are conflicts about what we determine to be true and untrue which, when adopted, rob us of choice. Read that sentence again!  Beliefs rob us of choice. They create limiting boxes to define the people around us and, even more sadly, limiting boxes to define our selves.

From those beliefs we design the masks that we wear for the specific roles and demands that we see life giving us. Deep under those masks and beliefs is that true and authentic self that Rick calls the heart-of-hearts. It’s there for everyone and it’s who we, as coaches, want to talk to.

Ironically, this soul essence defies words of description. The moment we describe it we dream it up and capture only a fraction of what it is. That’s what makes it difficult for a coach, or for out clients, to describe. Instead, we need to guide them to the experience of this powerful and gentle core.

The closest word I’ve ever encountered that captures the experience of this core is the word love; not the verb but the noun. That’s who my clients are. They are love. Even the toughest, most rock chewenest and snake eatenest of my clients are, at their core, love. 

Ask any soldier what he fears the most and his initial reaction my be that they fear nothing. In their heart-of-hearts what they fear is failing a friend, or their team. In the battlefield those kinds of emotional bonds are common.

The most successful coaching experiences I’ve had were when I was able to get what Rick describes as a sliver of light between my client’s authentic self and their beliefs about who they think they were. In that momentary glimpse of awareness is the opportunity for reintroductions.  From that place of being love, decisions take on a whole different flavour with a deeper sense of gravitas and a more wholesome meaning.

That’s the fertile ground where human growth is possible. Better leaders are developed, stronger relationships are forged, more resilient teams are formed, and deeper compassion in communities is created.

It all starts with a wonder:  Who am I?

How does it apply to you in your life?
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