Change Work March 2011

Who are you?

In the UK we've just received our census forms.  Every householder is required by law to complete the form and return it. We're surveyed in this way every 10 years and the information collected becomes the basis of all kinds of government policy and planning.  For historians, particularly those researching their family or community histories, past census records provide a valuable and fascinating snapshot of the people who lived in particular places at specific times.

The basic information consisting of name, address, occupation and family relationships also serves, in a sense, to define people.  And the new crime of "identity theft" illustrates that the same information, along with bank and credit card details, is so important today that it's worth stealing!

But your personal data really only defines what you have, and perhaps what you do, and doesn't really relate to who you are.

So what makes you you?

Well, thinking back to last month's article, there's your genetic makeup that determines how your physical body develops.  It may also influence your mental and emotional development to some extent. But I maintain that genetics can only be a minor factor in defining the "person" that you are. Much more important is the accumulation of many experiences that has built up through your life and how you've organised them into your internal map of the world.

All of this has led to your current set of values, or what's important to you, and your beliefs, or what you assume to be true.  And these are the core of what it means to be you.

So you were never pre-destined to turn out the way you have. You're not the person you were born to be, with no possibility of being any other way. You're the product of a lifetime of doing the best you could in the circumstances you found yourself in.

So, you weren't defined by your genes, but nor were you the helpless victim of a chaotic existence. You always had choice, although it may not always have seemed that way; because your choices are restricted to what you believe to be possible. For many people, what's possible equates to what they know, and they rule out (without any conscious consideration) taking any path that's unknown.  In practice, this means any path they haven't taken before.

In contrast, people who are in control of their lives can commit to goals that they don't already know how to achieve. They believe that they'll find a way and aren't afraid of uncertainty.

In fact, it's never certain how things will turn out.  If you're only comfortable when you can see every step along the way, then you'll either be going forward uncomfortably or not moving at all.  As someone said, "If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster!"

So how can you break out of this cycle?

Well, as with planning any journey, you first have to know where you're starting from. Who you are, embodied in your values and beliefs, is your starting point and it's well worth the effort to explore these - and they may not be quite as you thought or wanted. Crucially though, you're not stuck with them for ever!  Beliefs can certainly be changed and even values can if they need to. Like everything else, it's just a matter of knowing how.

But changing who you are is simply the next phase of your journey.  There's no magic wand, just a process of gaining new experiences that overwrite the old ones in your map of the world, making choices that lead you towards who you want to be.

So how are you going to expand your range of choices and make the impossible possible?