Just who do you think you are? That’s not asked with even the slightest hint of indignation, it’s a genuine question: who do you think you are? Take a moment to think about how you might answer that question, and while you do that, let me run through a few thoughts and ideas that may be racing around your mind…
You might have zeroed-in on the different roles you play in life – roles that define you as a dad, a mum, a business owner, an employee, a carer, or someone who is cared for, for example. Or maybe your mind has jumped to the things that you can or can’t do – your skills – and you are forming a view of yourself based on those – an artist, a writer, an engineer, a mathematician; someone who builds things, or grows things, or breaks things, perhaps? You may also be thinking about your feelings. Maybe you are lonely, excited, depressed, happy, melancholy, or just plain numb.
But none of those things are who you are. Each one simply describes something that you can, or can’t do. It paints a picture of where you fit in your world. And it points towards how all of that makes you feel. But that is not who you are.
Maybe your mind didn’t race to any of those things I just mentioned. Maybe it was consumed by labels that have been attached to you over the years – messages that people have given you about the person you are, are not, or that they want you to be. And maybe some of those messages were pretty negative – you are a loser, a waste of space, a nobody – insignificant, unlovable, pathetic. Or, perhaps those messages were positive. You have the whole world in your hands, you can be anything you want, you are super-talented, beautiful, and awesome. Or maybe your messages are a mash-up of positives and negatives.
But none of those labels given to you by other people are who you are, either. Sure, some of those labels may apply to you, but others will not. And whether they apply to you, or not, none of them originate from within you – they all flow into you from the outside, given to you by others based on their interpretation of life, not yours. And they affect you in all sorts of ways, shaping and distorting your view of who you are, just like the messages Shrek received shaped how he saw himself – a loathsome, scary creature to be feared and reviled. Take a moment to watch this clip to see just what an impact those messages had on him…
So, if you aren’t what you do, and you aren’t the labels attached to you by others, who exactly are you? Well, by far the simplest way to answer that is to look within – to unpack your attributes.
An attribute is a quality or feature of you that is inherent. It isn’t learned behaviour, an affectation, or something you have acquired along the way – it is a natural expression of the real you. By getting to grips with your attributes – and figuring out which ones are genuine attributes that truly are a part of you, and which are imposters – you can begin to build a picture of who you actually are: a picture of the real you. But how are you meant to figure out which are the imposters and which are the real-deal?
Well, you can start by taking a look in the mirror. This will help you identify your physical attributes. Who stares back at you from that mirror? What do you see? What do you like about what you see, and what don’t you like? Do you see someone who is too tall, too short, too skinny, too fat, whose nose is too wide, whose mouth is too big, and whose eyes are out of line? Do you see someone who needs a major overhaul, or do you see someone who is pretty much OK just as they are?
And you can spend some time reliving events – good and bad – from your life to help you lift the lid on your emotional attributes. Your emotional attributes are demonstrated in the way you respond to events, and they help to shine a light on who you really are. What is it that makes you react with excitement and anticipation? What brings tears of joy to your eyes, or grief to your soul? What casts a shadow over, or brings sunshine to, your day? And when those emotions make their entrance, how do you respond? Do you shut them down and simply “keep calm and carry on”, or do you allow them to rise to the surface and show their face?
Finally, you can take time to understand the type of person you are by exploring your character attributes. Are you kind, generous, loving, outgoing and authentic? Or do you see yourself as cold-hearted, shy, introverted and a bit of a fraud, for example?
Armed with a picture of your physical, emotional and character attributes – as you see them today – you can then begin the process of weeding out the imposters. Where did your dislike (or like) of certain physical features you see in yourself come from? Does it flow from external messages, or is it something that originates with you? And why do you respond in certain ways in certain situations? Were you told to always keep a lid on your emotions, so now you struggle to engage, or is that something that is purely an internal response – something that is natural to you? And what about your character attributes – are you really shy, or were you simply told that was how you are? Are you actually cold-hearted, or were you forced to see yourself that way by the experiences and messages of your past?
When you know the source of those views you hold of yourself, you can begin to root out the imposters. And as you root out the imposters (hint: those are attributes you believe you have as a consequence of external influences like the messages you’ve been given by other people), you will begin to build a clearer picture of the attributes that really do belong as a part of you – a picture that will clear the way for the real you to step forward and your best life to begin to take shape.