Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Calling Upon Your Best Self

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Some days it is easy to feel like the world is purposely against us, where the slogan for resistentialism, “Les chose sont contre nous (things are against us)”  best describes our sentiment. Or a small incident in the morning (like dropping a contact lens in the sink) can throw off the whole day. Sometimes we psych ourselves up and the pure nervousness masks our true potential.

On other days or times, we feel invincible where the world is exactly where it should be, obstacles appear as attractive challenges waiting to be conquered, and even the simplest gesture we make seem to multiply into ripples of good will. The speech we prepped for is well-received with many engaging questions from the audience, the tough decision we had to make to terminate a project or an employee pays off, and we remember to take the time to smell the flowers.

On these times, when it feels like nothing can go wrong, not just because we are enjoying a good day, but it feels like we are somehow able to bring out the best in ourselves. Maybe it was because we cut out sugar for a couple of days, maybe because the new pillow is allowing for more restful sleep, or maybe it’s the mindful exercises…. Whatever it took to get to our best selves, it is in our interest to be able to call upon that version of ourselves at a drop of a hat when it’s most needed, professionally or personally.

I learned this trick to “summon” the best version of myself at an executive boot camp I attended. It is a writing exercise called “When I am big, I am…” and it goes something like this (I’ve adapted the exercise after trying it out with several of my clients and friends):

  1. Speak with a friend and recall a day or an event in the past where you felt like the world was on your side, you felt the best aspects of yourself materialized into your decisions, speech and actions, to the point the border between you and the world melted away. In short, answer the question, “Who am I when I am big?*”
  2. Jot down how you felt at a time like that…”when you felt big”. Begin by writing out the first sentence as “When I am big, I am…” (make sure you write “when” and not “if”, which is an important distinction!)
  3. Carry that piece of paper around for a couple of days and think about when you were big, and add how it felt further and what actions you engaged in.
  4. Revise the notes, and have it handy
  5. Read the notes when you need to flip on the switch to summon the best version of yourself (e.g., before interviews, difficult conversation, etc.)

When I heard about it, I could see how it would work, as I am a big believer in writing exercises, such as the value exercise. I could also see that it might sound cheesy to someone who stayed clear from self-help books, or therapy meant admitting weakness. I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a room full of accomplished people, both women and men, of different ages and backgrounds, read their notes a loud, and the results surprised me. One had to hold back tears as she read her own, almost overwhelmed by the amount of passion and strength she was able to unearth. Hearing her read even as her voice cracked and stopped occasionally to sniff, the whole room benefited from her intelligence, tenacity and warmth.

Another, who only took a few minutes to jot down his thoughts while others took turns reading their “When I am big, I am…” notes, ended up articulating deep insights about himself. In just a few words, his uncompromising values were expressed, which made him realize why he left a successful career with a company whose integrity he questioned, when it was something he couldn’t articulate to himself just an hour ago. There is something about reading out one’s own words, in front of a group of people, affirming one’s identity.

For others when I suggested the exercise to individuals privately, some required help identifying that “big” self, as it manifests in different ways for different people. For one of my clients, who is a CEO of a startup called Paubox, his team mate started the process off for him: “It was like when we went to the ball game together. You were fully engaged in the game, as you called each play before it happened. You weren’t trying to convince anyone, or not trying to sell anything to anyone. You were part of the game describing the play as if you were seeing the future, simply describing, and enjoying as if you were the game.”

The Paubox CEO nodded, “I get it now. It’s like when I started kayak fishing and wanted to tackle the toughest one to fish, which was marlin. I tried and tried, and wasn’t getting anywhere. I needed the right rod, the right bait, the right location, the techniques. I conquered it one by one, and after several years, I finally hooked a marlin.” He described the battle as if it were a movie script: the struggle, the anticipation, the setback, the thrill, the validation, the joy. He mentioned that he gave the whole fish to his fishing teacher, as if it were a footnote, then went on to describe the fish. “Wait, wait. You went and gave the whole thing to your teacher?” I asked, to which he quickly responded “Oh yeah, it wasn’t even a question in my mind.”

When this CEO is big, he is focused on his marlin, is determined and tenacious. He is exploring every aspect of the project to make it happen. When he is big, he is not held back by any setbacks, but uses them to bounce back even harder. And most importantly, when he is big, he is mindful of the journey and the people who helped him. He remembers where he comes from.

For some, their “big”ness is connected to commanding attention: everyone is listening to them, while others feel big when their power works through people behind the scenes. For most, when they are big, they have the piece of mind to be kind to others, giving and able to contribute to make a situation better, that they are loving caregivers, parents, spouses and children, and they are mindful of their health.

After some thought, when I answered the question, who am I when I am big, my answers started with “I am small” (but bright, like a light at the end of the tunnel, guiding others to reach their best in their own ways).

Whether the portrait we decide to paint when we are big is similar or not, what’s important is that we have key phrases in our own words to describe that state to remind us that we possess that bigness in each of us so we can summon it when we most need it.

Photo: A statue of Buddha on Maui, Hawaii

*Title of the book which contains some examples of others who went through the exercise by Allan Milham and Kimberly Roush. Special thanks to Christi Haley-Stover of Platinum Resource Group, who, when she is big, she is connecting others to make them bigger.

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This entry was posted on April 30, 2016 by in books, Identity, Management, Writing and tagged , , , , , .
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