A few years ago I heard an actor say with some sadness, ‘I have no idea who I am when I am not on the stage’. This had a huge impact on me and the other people who were in the room. It got me thinking: Who am I when I am not a leadership coach, training facilitator, husband and all the other roles I act out in my life?
Many adults of all ages want to find greater meaning and purpose in their lives and in their work. Some of my coaching clients have realised that they have been living what Brad Swift calls ‘an inherited life’. They have been acting out someone else’s script by being in a career that was recommended to them by a parent or some other authority figure and, whilst they were successful in their role, they felt deep down that it ‘wasn’t them’. This sent them on a quest to find a more satisfying career or vocation.
As each of us is unique and as we are only on this planet once, I suggest we should spend some time clarifying our Identity. Our Identity, as we have seen above, is much deeper than the physical characteristics by which we are recognised, the roles we play in life and what is occupying our mind. When these are stripped away, who am I and who do I wish to become? And equally importantly, what sort of person do I not want to become? What are my boundaries?
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Polonius in Hamlet, Shakespeare
The way I became clearer about my own Identity; the essence of who I am and my mission in life, was to:
- create a list of about 100 verbs.
- I selected those that resonated with my sense of who I am.
- From this short list of nine verbs I selected the top three which are ‘explore’, ‘build’ and ‘enable’.
I then considered the ways in which these three verbs are connected to activities that give, or could give me a greater fulfilment in my life if I allocated more time to them.