Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin. – Mother Theresa
Over the next sixty to eighty days I will be roughing out the structure of a book in these posts.
I’ve tried this a few times in the past and it hasn’t quite worked out, but I’m using a different process this time, so bear with me.
The working title of the book is “Getting Started” and it’s about the messy process of getting going on a project, an idea I introduced yesterday.
Eventually, I’ll turn the raw material from these posts into a book – I hope.
But for now I want to talk about understanding where you are right now.
What is it that makes you you?
You learn a lot by listening to children, by trying to understand what they’re going through and trying to remember how you felt back then.
Perhaps the most important thing you can help your child to learn is the art of interaction – the skill to play with others.
Not, you should notice, play nicely, but play with others.
That means learning how the game is played and, equally importantly, how you’re playing it.
Each of us is a complex mix of chemicals and signals – bags of thinking water as Terry Pratchett puts it.
And what people around us get from us is what we say and what we do.
They listen to our stories and look at what we produce – these are the two categories of things that help them learn about us.
For all practical purposes, what the world thinks is “you” is this bundle of words and actions – so if you want to understand how you are seen, you have to start here.
Let’s take each one in turn.
How do you describe yourself to someone else?
We’ve all heard about the elevator pitch – but life isn’t really spent in elevators.
It’s spent in social and business gatherings, where you’re introduced to people and eventually they ask you to tell them about yourself.
When that happens you usually have a selection of stories ready to choose from.
Maybe it’s all about your job for you – what you do in the office and how important or powerful you are.
Maybe it’s about your research, your interests, your hobbies.
Perhaps it’s about where you live, your family.
There will be things that come to mind as you talk about yourself and you need to write them down – the actual words you use, not what you think you would say.
Next, write down what you do each day
Once again, go through your days and pick out the main things you do.
What do you work on, what kind of projects take up your time, how much time do you spend doing creative work and how much doing managerial and administrative work?
Perhaps you spend a lot of time in front of a computer doing analyses.
Maybe you’re doing a lot of internal work, helping various departments operate more effectively.
Or you’re out there, getting in touch with prospects and taking them through a sales development process.
Get these activities down – you’ll need to look at them every once in a while to remind yourself what was important then.
Why do you say what you say?
If you’ve followed these steps you now have a collection of words and phrases that capture what you say and do.
It’s time to look at these in some more detail.
What you need to ask yourself is where these ideas come from, starting with what you say.
For example, you might have written something like “money is not important.”
Where does that kind of idea come from?
Does money not matter because you had everything you wanted when you were young and you don’t want for anything now?
Is it because you’re not materialistic and don’t really need things to make you happy?
Is it because you went to boarding school and learned early on that if it didn’t fit in your trunk you needed to throw it away?
Those ideas you have about yourself have roots – roots in experiences and stories and families.
Pay attention to them – write them down.
The ideas held by an immigrant will quite often be very different from those held by someone who has had generations live in the place they are in now.
Think about why you do what you do
Finally, do the same exercise for what you do now.
Is the work you do something you trained for?
Are you a doctor or lawyer, did you spend years building your knowledge of an area?
Or is what you do a job you stumbled into when you were young, a temporary job that turned into a career 20 years later?
Or did you develop a skill to the point where you could get a job – perhaps you’re good at computers or got accepted into an apprenticeship because you were interested in a particular subject or craft.
This exercise is about knowing who you are and why
You may feel like you know all this stuff but this exercise is designed to make you look through yourself, not just at yourself.
The world sees what’s on the outside – what you say and do.
So, first you need to try and understand what they’re looking at.
But then you also need to try and understand why you are the way you are – look back to see what pressures formed you over time into the person that you are now.
None of these exercises have a “correct” answer – they’re about collecting impressions, collecting data about yourself.
We’re going to look at a few ways to do this – some different approaches to see yourself through someone else’s eyes.
Because before you try and make any changes, you really have to see yourself the way others see you.
It’s the difference between looking in a mirror and seeing a recorded video of yourself.
The video is always surprising because it’s a different point of view.
And that’s what we’re trying to do here.
We’ll try another approach, a more traditional one tomorrow.