As a teenager growing up in rural New Zealand if I ever wanted to go out I needed to borrow my parents’ car. Borrowing the car involved a pretty standard ritual of asking for it, explaining where I was going and who I would be with and when I expected to be home. Based on this explanation I would be given access to the family car (or the farm truck, depending on what was available). The final part of the ritual was that just before I left Dad would always say “remember who you are”. Every time he would say this and it drove me nuts. I interpreted “remember who you are” as an overt attempt to control me and my actions to ensure I didn’t sully the family name. As a teenage boy I wasn’t about to be controlled by anyone, especially my father!
As time went by I left home and went to University. There I met Jo, the love of my life. After a couple of years I took the big step of bringing her home to meet the parents. I was very nervous about this meeting. Much to my surprise she liked my parents and they liked her. One day while Jo was at my parents place we wanted to go out. I went through after the standard “can I borrow the car please” ritual and Dad added the usual “remember who you are”. As we left I muttered under my breath something about what a control freak my father was, although the language may have been a little more colourful. Jo just stared at me “what are you talking about?”. So I explained to her in simple clear (emotional?) language what the problem was.
She just shook her head in disbelief “is that what you really think? That’s not what he means at all. What he means is …” and she proceeded to give me a big long explanation on what he really meant. I don’t remember exactly what she said but it was something along the lines of don’t go and get all caught up in the moment, cave into peer pressure and do something that you know is wrong and will regret later. Arts students!! Always reading stuff into things that doesn’t exist. I mean really, she barely knew my father.
Time continued on. I embarked on my career as a consultant and over time began reading a number of book and participating in a series of personal development and leadership courses. Many of these courses and books raised the notion of self-awareness and authenticity as being critical to success in leadership and in life. Daniel Goldman’s EQ being one good example. Having been exposed to both highly authentic leaders and inauthentic leaders this rang very true for me. People can smell authenticity a mile away.
As I contemplated this new learning “remember who you are” came back to my consciousness in a new and unexpected way. It began to dawn on me that “remember who you are” was really shorthand for “remember who you really are and act with integrity to that true self”. Or more concisely be authentic. Jo was right and perhaps my father was actually quite wise to say such a thing.
This caused me a bit of a problem however as it posed a question I couldn’t easily answer. “Who am I really?” It’s very difficult to “remember who you are”, and then to express that consistently if you have no idea who you are!!
So my quest to find out who I really am and to act in a way that is consistent with this has begun. I know that as I have become more self-aware I have been able to express myself more authentically and that this has had a tremendous impact on people around me. In those moments I am a more effective person and leader. I also know that I mess up daily and act inconsistently with who I know myself to be. I’m human and to borrow a phrase this is a “never ending journey”, a journey that begins each day by asking who am I really? And reconnecting to the answer with “remember who you are”!
So now I ask you. Who are you, really?