Over the holidays I took some time to reflect on some of the highlights of 2016. One of those highlights was a conversation with my son, a senior in high school, on the topic of self discovery, identity, and self-actualization. I was a little surprised by how much he had thought about who he’s becoming, and how clear he was about his personal ideology and identity. During our conversation, I realized that he was essentially quoting the famous Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”
In my coaching practice, it is very common to discuss the leadership challenges of running an organization, managing teams, and developing individuals. It is equally common for me to ask questions that get at intrinsic motivation, personal values and purpose. When I think about new years resolutions, I believe that we have good intentions, but we may be approaching these things without reflecting on the deeper principles behind them. What do I mean by this? As I talked to various people about their new resolutions, it became clear to me that almost all of them fell into two categories; do less, or do more! For example: drink less, exercise more; spend less money, save more money; less soda, more tea; less ungratefulness, more gratitude; less worrying, more hoping.
Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing more noble things and less ignoble things, but I question if these resolutions are too superficial? Is there something more primal to get after with our resolutions? I’d like to suggest a different approach, and that approach is to begin the process of self-discovery in 2017. Self discovery means many things. It means finding your purpose in life (we all have a purpose), it means digging into your childhood and revealing the experiences that shaped you…good and bad. It means realizing what your beliefs are and then living by them. Or as the American English Dictionary defines it, “ a becoming aware of one’s true potential, character, motives, etc.”
I’d like to suggest that the journey of self-discovery will be far more rewarding than the short-term resolutions (they do have their place), and ultimately will lead you to a) greater self-actualization — the realization or fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities; and b) greater self-awareness — the capacity for introspection and ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals. To embark on this journey, you must think holistically about yourself by asking the following:
- Who do I see when I look in the mirror? Do you see someone that is comfortable with looking in the mirror and accepting what you see? Warts and all? What’s important here is that we are not in denial about who we are and can show empathy for our own selves as we journey through this life. I’d suggest taking an inventory of your physical, emotional and spiritual health. If we don’t feel good in our bodies (barring a medical condition) then it can be expected that not much else will truly feel good. If we are plagued by anxiety, anger, frustration, and disappointment, then we will not be living to our full potential. From a spiritual perspective, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi states, “One cannot lead a life that is truly excellent without feeling that one belongs to something greater and more permanent than oneself.”
- Are the relationships with your family and friends life-giving or life-draining? I’m particularly drawn to individuals who aren’t afraid to distance themselves from people who show little desire to better themselves. I am not suggesting or promoting arrogance or prideful behavior, but rather, developing an awareness of healthy and unhealthy relationships. As Warren Bennis states in On Becoming a Leader, “We cannot change the circumstances of our childhoods, much less improve them at this late date, but we can recall them honestly, reflect on them, understand them, and thereby overcome their influence on us.” I can’t emphasize the importance of cultivating a circle of friends who are equally invested in their personal growth and yours. If you want to become all that you want to be in 2017, those closest to you will either support your journey or hinder it!
- Does your work have meaning beyond your title and salary? If I am honest about my own career aspirations, I can say that for many years, my motivation was to make more money and reach to a level in an organization which others would envy. But as Dan Pink, author of Drive reminds us, “We’re designed to be active and engaged. And we know that the richest experiences in our lives aren’t when we are clamoring for validation from others, but when we’re listening to our own voice — doing something that matters, doing it well, and doing it in the service of a cause larger than ourselves.”
Having begun the journey of self-discovery many years ago, I fully embraced Socrates famous saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And as Warren Bennis states, “Until you make your life your own, you’re walking around in borrowed clothes.” So I encourage you to discover your authentic and true self this year, because the more we know about ourselves and our world, the freer we are to achieve everything we are capable of achieving.