If you haven’t reflected on the question, “Who Am I?” lately, here’s an invitation to do so. I know this sounds a little like existential navel-gazing but it is in fact a very practical process of aligning who you are with what you do and say, so your communication is powerful and clear. You are your brand. You shape it every day in every conversation and decision. Walking the talk has long been a leadership injunction because it is a critical competency that most of us could do well to improve.
The first step is a backward one, to reflect on the elements that make up your life and decide what to hold onto or let go of and what new dimensions you would add. It becomes a bit of a personal strategic plan for your best life. Although you can purchase card decks that are either professional or personal in focus, you can also just sit down with a pad of sticky notes as I did and create your own so they represent you exactly as you are and wish to be.
Here are the instructions:
1. Sit in a quiet place with a pad of post-it notes and a pen. Be still for a few moments as you think about your life right now. When you are ready, write down all the aspects of your life you can think of, each one on a separate note.
2. Don’t forget the non-work aspects of your life – your friends and family, sports and recreation, fitness and health, travel, reading and hobbies you enjoy, even though you may not spend a lot of time on them. Include everything that is part of your life.
3. Spread your notes out on a large table or the floor so you can see them all at once, preferably in a place you can leave them for a few days. Take a good look at what you’ve got. You may want to add a few or change the headings as you look at the total picture.
4. Begin to look for themes in the headlines you’ve written. Your family might be a theme category, for example. Arrange the notes into piles under no more than 5 or 6 themes. The title of each theme may be one of your notes or a category you create to capture a set of activities. The categories don’t need to be an activity – Meaning in Life may be one of your categories for example, and under it you might put the notes you created around volunteer work, spending time with elders, or travel abroad.
5. Work on your themes over a period of days. It’s best to arrange them to suit you and then leave them for a few hours or a day and come back to them to see what you feel about them. As you work, consider eliminating the activities that don’t fit your values or purpose at the moment, and add any you feel are missing from your picture. Play with the titles of your categories until you feel they express the person you want to be now.
6. It’s a good idea to review your categories with a partner or close friend to give you an opportunity to talk about your choices and get feedback from someone who knows you. Depending on the degree of change you anticipate from your current roles and activities, you may also want to test your choices for feasibility and timing. If you’re going to do more reading, you can build that into your day. If you’re renovating your home or changing jobs, that may take more discussion.
7. Finally, look at the plans or activities that are different than who you are and what you do now. For each new or changed commitment, make a “what by when” statement. For example, “I will get to the gym 3 times a week for a 30 minute workout.” You may have more than one activity (or perhaps passivity if one of your categories is Stress Reduction) associated with a new direction; just be sure they are SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely).
As adults, we continue to develop through life, very often without noticing the changes taking place. Every few years, it is important to revisit who we have become and to make any changes necessary to living our best life. Whether you are updating your website, writing your resume, or considering a change in some aspect of your life, this exercise will be of great benefit.