In an intimate moment between them, the grandfather with the wisdom of a long life passes on to his grandson words learnt through a life of learning…’be true to yourself”.
The grandson looks around in bewilderment and asks…..”be true to myself…but who am I?”
The question of who is my authentic Self, is with us through our lives. We seek our authentic self at times of introspection, others seek our true identity also whether, our workplace, our friends and partners. In a time where our ‘Self’ can be both influenced and manifested in so many ways with social media personas, a business presence, societal demands and so on, what Self is true?
In our quest to seek some Purpose in our lives it is reasonable and right to consider the alignment with that Self, to create authenticity in what must be one of the most important functions we have in our lives.
As we travel through the labyrinth of experiences and teachings, good, bad and otherwise our learning’s influences our character and piece by piece create the unique creatures we are.
Depending on your religious or spiritual beliefs, many also embrace the concept that we are born with ‘history’ and this too is an important influence and to some the core of our Self.
Arguably the influences of our Self, begins before we are born as we inherit ancestral and genealogical traits from our forebears that trickle into our character. We are reared and live in different cultural environments where behavioural norms of one can be quite different to another.
I suspected before I touched on the subject of ‘authenticity’, that I was taking a bite out of a very large apple. Creating a Purpose that aligns sensibly with ‘who we truly are’ whether for a business or individual is critical for it’s sustainability and real impact. So this will be a conversation I will continue into the future as well.
We are told that to understand ourselves fully we must look within and while I respect this self analysis, I wondered isn’t this introspection looking at our Self through the rear vision mirror. Where we are today is an accumulation of all our past learning, but does it stop at this point?
Self is not static and in fact it evolves by continual learning throughout our lives. Again whether for an individual or a business it is from ‘learning’ from every experience that continually evolves who we are.
For a part of my career I worked with an amazing well-known theatre company (not on stage I might add). I would often relay to potential business partners that one of the most stimulating aspects of my time there was to observe the Director and cast recreate a story that had been told, sometimes thousands of times before, to create a relevant and enriching performance. A group of actors who invariably didn’t know each other prior, would be led through an iterative process by their Director and tap into their creative, intellectual and experiential selves to bring about these works.
This work would then be presented to a group of people, an audience, that would give immediate and critical feedback, through applause, of varying degrees of enthusiasm.
My business partners would observe this process, be challenged by a different paradigm and creative approach then interpret techniques that they could use in their own workplace. My client’s Self had gained from a unique learning from outside their regular world.
Herminia Ibarra, the Cora Chaired Professor of Leadership and Learning at Insead Business School wrote in a HBR article recently;
‘the benefit of what I call outsight – the valuable external perspective we get from experimenting with new leadership behaviours – habitual patterns of thought and action fence us in. To begin thinking like leaders, we must first act: plunge ourselves into new projects and activities, interact with very different kinds of people, and experiment with new ways of getting things done. Especially in times of transition and uncertainty, thinking and introspection should follow experience – not vice versa. Action changes who we are and what we believe is worth doing.’
I would tell business leaders the story of the theatre company because often learning’s can be found in amazing and different places, with people that are from vastly different worlds and experiences to us. It is why I have always found it so rewarding for all to create partnerships between not-for-profits and commercial organisations, each with their own unique IP.
One of the most profound if not always conscious teachers we will have in our lives will be our partners. Whether personal or business, if authentic the relationship can have a wonderful impact on our learning and thus on our Self and Purpose.