...so the title of a podcast I was listening to recently from a 20-something young chap from New Zealand who put this claim out very self-confidently and noisily.
For some reason, the headline really rubbed me the wrong way, so I was getting curious to hear what he had to say. Particularly as so many people nowadays (and probably even before that) have been asking themselves EXACTLY that question:
Who am I, really?
So I listened in to understand what this young, very successful gentleman really meant.
He was talking about how we can be we’d like to be and that – just because we grew up with believing that we are shy, introvert or boisterous or crazy or whatever label we (or someone else) put on us does not mean that this is we HAVE to be.
Contrary to some people who argue that “I’ve always been like that” or “That’s just how I am”.
This is when I got it.
He was clearly talking about our PERCEPTION of ourselves. Which can be something completely different than who we actually are.
And he’s totally right there. Let me explain what I mean.
The crux is that a lot of people have no clue who they REALLY are. Most of us have a perception of ourselves, based on our upbringing, our peer groups, our education, our experiences which form beliefs and supposed “truths” about ourselves.
And those truths, beliefs or traits more often than not, become self-fulfilling prophecies. You know the funny thing is that when we look back, we can ALWAYS find proof for our beliefs. Try it out for yourself. It is absolutely fascinating (and when we find so much evidence it MUST be true, right? After all those are data points, and we’re being pragmatic here…).
So, as a result, the perception and beliefs become even stronger.
Great, when they are really good: I have always believed that I am sporty and fit and will NEVER seriously gain weight. I also believe that I am a creator.
Both of those beliefs have been confirmed through my past – and hey, who would complain about those!
On the other side, they can become a vicious circle: I also believed that I had to fight to achieve anything in my life: a better job, more money, the right relationship.
And you guessed it: That is exactly what happened. I fought a lot in life to get where I wanted to be.
So I was convinced that this is (part of) who I am (and that life is hard).
That was until I started to "unlearn" lots of things and beliefs I acquired during my life which was a huge eye-opener (or real-eye- - I love playing with words...) for how I perceived myself which - a lot of parts – had nothing to do with who I really am.
Or even better: I chose to be in the end.
We can change into we decide to be, so far the idea – and in agreement with the podcaster.
Don’t believe it? Well, change your ideas and beliefs, act accordingly and you will see it unfolding.
"But - I simply don't know how that works" - you might say.
If you are now waiting for the big, secretive formula behind, you might be disappointed.
The recipe: Take the decision and JUST DO IT.
Or fake it until you make it – we all have heard that before – pretending until we are there. And according to science this actually works.
I’m not saying it is always super easy. Still, we are in control of who we really are and not victims to our environment, our parents, ourselves or even our genes.
What appears as character trait might just be a well trained habit: If we are a people pleaser and can't say no, this might come from our past where we learned that we can make (more) friends in school when we say yes or that we feel more loved or appreciated when we do what other people ask us to.
Eventually, this habit might cause us resentment or even makes us fuming and angry every time we said yes, when we acutally wanted to say no. Or eat the scrambled eggs for breakfast even if we had preferred a bowl of fruit, only because we wanted to please someone else.
I am not denying that there might be a pre-disposal for certain traits, which doesn’t mean we have to be and stay like that all our life.
Nobody is born as an a***hole, but develops the behaviour to become one.
Nobody is born as a leader either, but we can learn what makes a leader and behave accordingly.
In a New York Times article, Wharton Professor Adam Grant writes about the "Age of Authenticity," when people "want to live authentic lives, marry authentic partners, work for an authentic boss, vote for an authentic president."
And gives a passionate speech against authenticity and claims that “being ourselves” for most people (unless you are Oprah Winfrey) is terrible advice.
He claims that we pay a price for being authentic: being considered rude or weak.
Dear Professor Grant, I see and know that the world has been changing a lot recently and authenticity and acting congruently are a prerequisite for a REAL connection with others.
If that is the price to pay, I’m happy to.
I believe he got it completely wrong – being authentic and ourselves does not mean being inconsiderate, rude or consciously hurting someone with blurting a possibly bitter truth in someone’s face.
That's not authenticity, but unfiltered, brutal and uncalled for "honesty".
Being authentic – being ourselves – is to show ourselves, our opinions, behaving true to our values and ideas and standing up for ourselves. We can do that without being any of the above – so my conviction.
Not everybody might like it – particularly not those around us who might have been used to our ”old” self, and might even complain like a former boyfriend of mine did one day: “You have changed so much, I don’t recognize you anymore”. He was not talking about my makeup or looks. To which I answered: “I hope so! Otherwise, there would be standstill in my life.”
While we are on the quest of change – to become the person we choose to be – or to become my best self, how I would rather phrase it – we might have phases where we still practice – you might call it fake.
Is that being untrue to ourselves? Nope, I don’t believe so. It is rather adapting being the person of our choice (which might JUST be the real us) and behaving accordingly.
Knowing who we are IS important, because only then we can define if we like it, where we desire to change or to grow – and become we are striving to be.
AND being clear about what is important to me and acting accordingly helped me in the last year to set clearer boundaries and to get what I wanted much quicker.What does that mean in real terms:
I, for example, decided that I am a truly honest and transparent person in all aspects and that I expect the same from people who are close to me. Not that I was a lier before. I just didn't always speak up for myself, for my wishes and boundaries. Eventually I realized that I WAS this person all along, I just did not act on it - so wasn't myself before.
Surprisingly enough this showing myself clearly brought me more respect and deeper relationships...and much more peace of mind.
This has, by the way, NOTHING to do with not being good enough.
One of the biggest diseases in our modern society. Or is your salary big enough, your body fit enough, your job powerful enough and are you beautiful enough?
I almost bet if you are honest with yourself, the answer is no to at least one of them. Not because it's true, but because we all suffer from "comparitis" (the irresistible indulgence to compare ourselves to all kinds of people or "social norms". To be clear - I made this word up, don't look it up in the dictionary ;-) )
I look at this whole situation from a different perspective: Wherever I am - I am enough AND I can choose to develop and grow in those areas where I wish to grow because I decide so. Not because society, peer pressure, my boss or my better half tells me to.
So, in the end, it was quite right what this young businessman claimed: that it probably does NOT help us if we remain in the “this is who I am and will always be” trap, based on beliefs from our past.
What I disagree with though is his claim - that being ourselves in business and life is a myth.
It’s just a question of what we define as “ourselves” and we choose to be and if it harms or helps us.
Maybe just a matter of semantics.
That’s why it’s important to listen - even if we don’t like what we hear in the first place. It might turn out to mean the same what we believe in – just expressed differently or looked at from a different perspective.