I’d like to tell you about a good friend of mine….
He was always quite suspicious of other people or new people. He would be quiet in groups at social events when we were young. He used to say that people had to prove themselves before he would really engage properly with them. He came to be known that way. When on holidays together, everyone would confirm the way he was by telling new people to beware of him and get to know him cautiously, all said and done with an element of fun as we promoted the stereotype of who he was. A few years later, he was offered a major promotion at work that moved him from being a top performing telesales back office salesman, to the front line as a key accounts manager who would have to meet with clients face-to-face, engage with them socially and develop ongoing, effective relationships with them. Although by now he had entrenched himself in his personality and the kind of person he was; he believed himself to be austere, aloof, someone who waited for others to engage with him first – this is who he was. Him and I spoke about it, he was considering turning the job down because he felt he was not suited to it.
Today, he is the managing director of that company, he gives presentations to hundreds of people each week, he is directly responsible for the communication ethos of the entire company. He took the new role at that young age and stepped out of who he had been, and became who he needed to be in order to thrive and be effective. He is a prime example of the key theme I am writing about today.
There is a major trend in personal development and self-improvement circles to promote and defend our right to be authentic and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Those authors promoting this also promote wearing your heart on your sleeve and being who you truly are all the time, bearing your soul to the world with courage and bravery.
So let’s start this blog entry with a good old rendition of “I am what I am”, let’s sing it from the rafters and be proud of who we are, shall we? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Dame Shirley Bassey, hammering out this iconic tune with a message many people live by:
Yes indeed, we exclaim this with gusto – I am what I am, and receive rapturous applause from those who admire your bravery and courage to be who you are and to show the world your true self. The problem with courage and bravery is that it inherently involves fear. That is, as Susan Jeffers would say, that you feel the fear and do it anyway. So you fight against the fear and expose yourself to the world, being brave, being true to yourself, being courageous and valiant.
Yet we are still having to overcome fear. We are accepting that in order to show our true self, fear must be present, and we must overcome it. We have to be brave and inspirational to others who have fear about showing their true selves – then they can be inspired to authentically expose who they really are and exclaim “I am what I am” too, even though it is inherently fearful.
Instead of suggesting that your life is not worth a damn until you can shout out “I am what I am” (which strikes me as rather harsh to be honest), how about the notion that your life is worth a monumentally great deal; your life is exponentially more wonderfully amazing when you consciously choose how you need to be each and every minute of each and every day in order to be effective, productive, happy, and living life with joy.
The main issue with constantly promoting ‘authenticity’ and ‘vulnerability’, is that it tends to rely on former programming and us fitting into the person that we are, the person who has been fashioned throughout a lifetime. People believe they are being authentic and permitting themselves some vulnerability by saying….
“That’s the way I am”
“That’s typical of me, isn’t it?”
“I’ve always been that sort of person”
The past has created and fashioned us and provided us with a blueprint that says “this is who I am” and I’m going to proudly share that with the world. This is passive though, it tends to suggest that you are passively living as a result of your past and can even suggest that you are not prepared to change and adapt to the world around you.
“I’ve always had a sweet tooth”
“I’ve always had a large frame”
“I am an argumentative person”
“I’m not good in social scenarios”
And being authentic and vulnerable means I share this with you, I straddle over the fear of sharing that openly, I accept this is who I am and I rejoice… Like I rejoice when I have reached the end of a firewalk, for example. I was fearful of those hot coals, but I got pumped up, I took the steps, and at the other end, I got to rejoice. But quite rightly, I am still fearful of those hot coals. They are very hot coals after all.
Madonna is one of the most successful performing artists of all time. Madonna is known for reinventing herself. She has an image and a creation of herself that represents various eras of her career. She chose a sound, a style, a look and created herself with purpose and consciousness; from “Like A Virgin” to “Into the Groove” to “True Blue”, “Papa Don’t Preach” then “Like A Prayer” onto the iconic “Vogue” and “Justify My Love” then the “Erotica” era, her performance in Evita, then “Ray of Light” and blimey, so much in between, so much more since, even in other differing art forms – it is incredible how she consciously chooses and creates who and how to be.
The problem with buying into the idea that authenticity is laudable, is that it also suggests our personality is permanent – “that’s just the way I am” is actually self-deception. You were not born that exact way, and it does not have to be set in stone unless you allow it to be so. What ensues as a result of thinking and believing that we have a certain personality and way about us that is immovable is that our behaviour gets driven by it. Our personality becomes some sort of predictor about how we are going to be in the future too. Most importantly though, is that just letting yourself authentically yield to being a certain way eliminates all responsibility. Instead of making choices about who you are and how you are going to be (ideally the most effective person for that situation), you become a slave to that rigidly defined construct of who you are letting yourself lazily be.
You are essentially being a robot version of yourself.
I had a mentoring call with a man this week who gave me permission to share with you that he believed he was not the right sort of person to become a well-known hypnotherapist. He believed people needed to be and look a certain way to be really busy with a career in hypnotherapy. “What?” I said, “you mean the answer to being a busy hypnotherapist is to have an unusually large and shiny forehead, ginger hair and run marathons? To foam at the mouth when talking about hypnosis, to say rude words and have a slight stutter?” …. “I wish I had discovered that sooner, because I could slimline these mentoring sessions down a great deal!”
When being the robot, when being the “true self” and “authentic” each day, we are running on auto pilot, based upon that personality. We fit into it; we filter reality in such a way that it fits into who and how we are, and we become blinkered by it. When those blinkers come off, we get to choose. We get to create. We get to express ourselves. We get to be liberated. We become incredibly productive. We throw off the chains, we no longer allow ourselves to be a passive recipient reacting to previous programming, we get to be more!
What can we do once we know this?
We can communicate with ourselves differently for starters. Many of my therapy clients often use statements to describe themselves to me during our assessment, they often write or tell me:
“I always do this….”
“I tend to….”
“I have always been… type of person…”
“Typically, I will…”
They suggest that these ways are permanent facets of who and how they are. They are living under an illusion that they are a certain way. They obey that. They invest belief in it and will often defend it. As you are reading this, you may also be resisting it, you may feel inclined to defend who and how you are.
Think though, how do you define yourself? Is it according to patterns of personality? Are there a set of typical characteristics that your friends and family all associate with you that you adhere to, that you fit into?
That identity can construct your reality. If you then read about the power of being authentic, and bravely being vulnerable about conceding who you are, you entrench yourself further into that mindset.
I have spent a lifetime being a sucker for this. I lived parts of life as a ‘typical Leo’ and absolutely let personality choose my path at numerous pivotal times in my life…. Quirky, hot-headed red-head, sporty, egg-head, dreamer, air-head, joker…. Fitting into that would be the basis of friendships I made, the way I presented myself within my business, the way I would make decisions and so on, and so on.
Therefore, to be in control of who and how they are, I recommend to my clients that they move away from those types of previously mentioned phrases and beliefs. I tell my students this time after time after time; have your clients put this stuff into the past tense – Instead of “this is how I am”, you think “that’s how I used to choose to be” or “that’s how I was on that occasion.”
I used to be overweight or I used to eat a lot of the wrong foods when I went to those events.
I used to procrastinate or I procrastinated on that project back then.
I used to be late for everything or I was late on that occasion.
That’s how I was before I took control and made effective, conscious choices about who I am.
You get the gist with these limited examples I hope. Put it in the past, for starters.
You then stop yielding to the idea of ‘this is me’ or ’I’m being authentic’ or ‘this is who I am’ and that will no longer dictate your direction forward. Take charge, take control, consciously choose how to be most effective at that time.
One of my favourite approaches to therapy is also a very valuable self-improvement tool; problem solving therapy. One of the aspects of it that I love is the idea of thinking up a wide variety of solutions for a scenario in life, and then weighing up the likely effectiveness of each of those solutions before choosing what to implement. So you think about what you wish to achieve, and you think about how you need to be in order to accomplish that. The person you have typically been as a personality in the past in your life, may not be as effective when it comes to achieving and accomplishing that. Better to choose how to best approach it with purpose.
Be conscious and ask yourself questions to shift your focus into who and how you can choose to be. What can you do differently today? How can you choose to be today?
Don’t let the way things have been in the past be the only determinant of how things are going to be in the future. Apply conscious choice and heightened awareness and create yourself for the best possible outcome. Become an active agent in your own life. Use your potential to create yourself each day. Who do you need to be in order to be the most effective with any desired outcome you have for yourself?
It is more authentic to be who you need to be. One of the most authentic things you can do is to tap into your natural abundance of creativity and create the life you choose each and every day. Perhaps one of the least authentic things we can do is construct a personality based upon a lifetime of belief investment and let that illusion run our life for us while shouting over the fear “I am what I am!” That kind of vulnerability is disputably useful.
Go create yourself.