At social gatherings in major cities in the United States, it is customary to say "hello" when meeting new people. The first two questions most people ask are:
1) What’s your name?
2) What do you do?
The first question isn’t surprising. Its purpose is to know how to refer to you by name.
The phrasing of the second question is peculiar.
Its purpose is to answer the question “Who are you?”
This allows others to associate your name with some information about your identity as a person.
However, rather than ask “Who are you?”, most people in the U.S. ask, “What do you do?”
This assumes the two questions are essentially one and the same.
It has taken me years to realize just how much I disagree with this premise.
You are not your job.
You are not your income.
You are not your profession.
You are not your mistakes or failures.
You are also not your success.
Sure, these are elements of your identity, but they are not the core of who you are. It’s important to recognize the distinction.
The CORE part of your identity should be something that doesn’t change very often — something enduring if not permanent.
Things like jobs, income and professions are temporary. If you live 100 years, you will not have the same job for that entire time. Your income is not guaranteed and will change. These things are not inherent to you, so by (my) definition, they can not be part of your core identity.
Why am I telling you this?
It’s for a simple reason.
If you attempt anything meaningful (to you) in life, you will come across obstacles, problems and failure. It has been my experience that it is during life’s most difficult times that you find out who you really are.
That’s because it is in life’s most trying times that what you thought was part of your identity disappears from your life. You don’t get that job offer. You get laid off from that dream job. You lose that income. You didn’t get what you want.
In that moment of failure, and in some cases despair, what do you have left?
It’s a profoundly important question.
What you have left is YOU.
For many people, myself included, hitting a major failure point forces you to face this very inconvenient question.
And the two scariest answers in the world to that question are:
1) I have nothing left.
2) I don’t know who I am without everything that has disappeared from my life.
These are very lonely answers to one of life’s most important questions.
Why should you care?
Because at some point in your life, you will face this question. If you do not choose to face this question now, life will dictate the timing of when you face it. And trust me when I say that life tends to choose the worst timing to have you face this question.
Why is it some people seem to bounce back from major failures and setbacks?
Why is it some people have peace of mind?
Why is it when they succeed they aren’t at all anxious about losing what they’ve achieved?
Why is it when some people “fail” they are disappointed, but can function and recover quite easily?
Why does any of this happen?
Here’s my take on the answer to these questions:
They know WHO THEY ARE.
When you take away all the trappings of success, and all you’re left with is a stripped down, vulnerable you, that’s when you find your answers to the question of “Who are you?”
I’ll share with you a simple guide to help you answer this question.
The answer to the question, “Who are you?” is simple.
When you strip away all success, achievement, and materialism...
You are YOUR VALUES.
When you have “nothing,” all you’re left with is your thoughts, your feelings and your VALUES.
If you value kindness, whether you are rich or poor, successful or a failure, you will always strive to be kind — because that is who you are.
If you value learning, whether you got promoted or not, whether you get a raise or not, you will always strive to be learning — because that is who you are.
If you value excellence, whether your performance was good enough by someone else’s standard or not, you will always strive to be excellent (by your standard) — because that is who you are.
If you value respect, whether people are cruel to you or not, you will always be respectful to yourself, to them, and to others — because that is who you are.
In concept this seems simple. And it is.
Yet most people struggle with the question of “Who are you?”
If you are at all like many (if not most) people, you may not know your own values.
You may have inadvertently adopted OTHER PEOPLE’S values as your own.
You may have adopted values from your parents, friends, teachers, bosses, employers or society at large. And you may have done so without deeply and critically questioning those values to determine for yourself if YOU actually agree with those values enough to make them YOUR OWN.
So let me ask you one of the most important questions you will ever be asked in your lifetime...
Who the Hell Are You?
By the way, having your own set of values is one of the critical components of having self esteem. People who value themselves (i.e., have self esteem) have values. People with no self esteem (i.e., have no self esteem) have no values of their own. Instead they borrow other people’s values and end up with “others' esteem” as a very poor substitute to self esteem. For many people, this is the root of much suffering in life.
I recently conducted a class on how to develop unshakeable self-esteem. Although it was sold out, if you’d like to be notified if I ever offer this again, just fill out the form on this page: How to Develop Unshakeable Self-Esteem.