This may be the hardest question in the world to answer. It has taken me five decades! You may look at it and think, that’s an easy one and define yourself as a mother, a father, a business owner, an athlete, a student, a manager, a lawyer, or any other description of what you do or role you play. Or you may portray yourself as fit, lean, wealthy, popular, married, or other achievement or status. But here is the deal, none of those things are who you are. So, I ask you again, who are you, really?
The biggest challenge with attaching your identity – which is what we are really talking about here – to something you do, something you have or something you have achieved, is that you can lose it. If it’s a job, a career, or a title, what happens if you lose it? If it’s money in the bank, the material things you own or the way you look, again I ask, what happens if you lose any of those things? What happens, as in my case, if it is an achievement? For me, as an insecure young boy, teen, and a young man, I attached my identity and self-worth to the recognition, validation, and admiration I received as a professional athlete.
For seven years as a professional footballer, from the age of 16 to 23, I felt strong, confident, admired, and happy. I was actually kidding myself that I was happy, but that’s another story. It all came crashing down around me in October 1987 after I read in the sports section of a national newspaper, two weeks after playing in a grand final for the club, that I had been de-listed. To put it in more brutal terms, I was sacked, and I read about it in the newspaper. That identity, the thing that gave me any semblance of self-worth, was now gone in a heartbeat and I was crushed. I spiralled and it took me a long time to pick myself up from that and move on. But even when I did, I didn’t learn the lesson.
I then attached my identity to my body and worked obsessively hard to gain and maintain a body that people would admire and love. I never stopped to think about what would happen as I aged, and my body would not be the same. In addition to that, I attached my identity and self-worth to how hard I worked and how much money I made in business. Well, again, that collapsed around me as I worked over 100 hours per week, in two businesses, over a two-year period, to find myself in close to $100,000 debt. My self-worth took yet another nose-dive as I could not hang on to the things I believed defined who I was.
I am glad I now know who I am, and it has nothing to do with what I have, what I do or what I have or will accomplish in my life. Who I really am lies deep inside of me and it can never be lost, stolen or broken. I was speaking to a group of teenagers at a high school last week, and the very first exercise we did was call ‘I am’. I made it clear to them that they were not a score, not a grade, not smart or stupid and not talented or untalented. I handed out a sheet of paper, with the words ‘I am’ at the top and I asked them to write the words, values and character traits that describe who they were. Things like; kind, courageous, compassionate, loving, giving, caring, funny, curious, spontaneous, persistent, generous, adventurous, trustworthy, loyal, joyful, optimistic, empathetic, faithful, vulnerable, gentle, patient and so on.
What do you notice about these descriptions of who you are? They are deep inside you, a part of your DNA, and they can’t be lost, stolen, or broken, ever. Too many people focus on being popular as their identity, yet if they just focused on being kind, giving and generous, they would automatically be popular. Lots of people focus on the achievement of something to fuel their self-worth, yet if they just focussed on being curious, courageous, adventurous, patient, and persistent, they would achieve everything they aspired to. I spent so much time thinking that being in a loving relationship would help me and my identity, yet I found myself in and out of far too many. If only I focussed on my compassion, empathy, loving and caring nature, I wouldn’t have had to worry so much or experience so much heartache.
Coming back to my original question, who are you, really? Hopefully you now know how to answer it in a way that will allow you to have, do and become everything you want in your life. In my podcast with Stacey Copas this week, called Feel every moment, Stacey talks about how she lost the life she thought she wanted when she ended up a quadriplegic at the age of 12. Now she knows who she is at the core and, even though in a wheelchair, is one of the most joy-filled, passionate, and powerful positive influencers I have ever met.
What about you? Are you ready to let go of the need to look good, achieve more, work harder and have more to fuel how you feel about yourself? Are you ready to re-define who you really are? Are you ready to look at the values and character traits you have, deep inside, that you can never lose? If you do, you will discover who you really are and that you are already good enough to fulfil the incredible destiny you have been put on this planet for. Spend time right now answering the question: who are you, really?