Change What Defines You

We each have a narrative we tell about ourselves;  a character we’ve created.  We act in accordance with the qualities we’ve attributed to this character,  good and bad,  usually running on autopilot, seldom stopping to consider if our story continues to serve us in the best way.

Jim prided himself on being a dedicated and hard worker – an admirable quality to be sure – but he worked so much and took on so much responsibility,  it was wreaking havoc on his personal life and his health.

Greta thought of herself as a pillar of her community.  She was always the first to volunteer or join a committee; helping people in need, etc.  Ultimately, it took its toll on her family,  in part because it was a way of avoiding some serious issues in her marriage.

There are the self-definitions that serve as pre-made excuses and self-fulfilling prophesies:   Fran told me,   “I’ve always been unathletic;  that’s why I don’t exercise.”    She was always the last one picked when the kids were choosing teams and this led to a lifetime sense of humiliation and shame when it came to any kind of physical endeavor. (I can relate!)  I certainly would not have encouraged her to take up a high-risk sport that required a great deal of coordination,  but she was eventually able to enjoy the type of athletics in which she competed against herself (swimming, tai chi, yoga, bike riding.) She was able to let go of that stressful competitive feeling whenever she thought about any kind of physical activity and enjoy the healthful benefits.

Rachel complained, “I always have the worst relationships.  I don’t even want to bother dating anymore, because I know I’m just going to be disappointed and have my heart broken.”   It had been many years since she had any kind of romantic relationship with a man.  Eventually, she came to understand that when she expected the worst,  that’s exactly what she got.  Once she adjusted her expectations and just started meeting men without having any agenda,  she found she enjoyed the companionship.  And because she’d let go of all those heavy expectations,  she became more relaxed, and thus much more interesting and attractive to men.

Too often,  we define ourselves by our failures or flaws,  blinding ourselves  to our finer qualities.  Dana thought of herself as unattractive and was convinced this was the reason nobody would ever love her.   Paul saw himself as not very smart,  and thus,  “knew” he would never be successful.

While there may be some validity in such self-assessments, they are hardly the sum and total of who we are.  Everybody has faults, weaknesses, flaws and things they’d like to change about themselves, but to define yourself by your negative qualities is self-defeating and sure way to keep you from accomplishing your higher goals.

True,  Paul may not be the smartest guy among his peers, but by defining himself as “stupid” he blinded himself to his other fine qualities.   He is a generous, sweet man,  a loyal friend with many friends and co-workers who like and respect him.  He’s a hard worker and a loving husband and father.    Eventually, he came to understand that his finer qualities are so much more valuable to his happiness and overall well-being.

Similarly, Dana finally embraced the notion that beauty comes from within.  When she exuded happiness and confidence,  men were attracted to her.

Jack was terrified of making a mistake.  The fear was crippling to the point where he could barely make a decision. Change was impossible because he could not move from his spot.  He thought of himself as a coward, and this virtually guaranteed that he would never even attempt to change; his “destiny was already written.”   Slowly,  he came to regard “mistakes” as merely lessons, to be embraced.  This freed him immensely.

Of course, it is important to differentiate between things that can be changed and things that cannot be.  Sometimes,  what we think is immutable, is changeable with the right effort and mind-set.  And sometimes,  we waste years (even a lifetime) trying to become what we are not.

Usually, things are changeable to a certain degree.  For instance,   Dave was  not an aggressive-go-getter type, so becoming wildly successful in a highly competitive field was not in his future.  Nevertheless,  he learned to be more assertive when necessary and this helped him tremendously in business.

Larry was pathologically adverse to risk, which made life changes difficult if not impossible.  He started his metamorphosis by taking easy, low-risk challenges to build up his “muscle.”  Once he had a string of successes under his belt,  he started to feel more confident in his own judgment.  And a few failures that didn’t destroy him helped him understand that he could survive if things didn’t work out as he’d planned.

Ask yourself if your own self-definition isn’t limiting you; getting in the way of you achieving your goals.  Try thinking of yourself in a different way… you don’t have to act on it just yet.  Just try on this new persona and see how it feels.  You may be surprised at how easy it is to change from the inside out!

© 2011 Adrienne E. Gusoff   all rights reserved