The Decision that Will Change Your Life

"Who do you say that I am?" If you or I were to ask that question to our friends, family and professional colleagues, how would they answer?

I find interesting the various approaches used to answer that seemingly simple question. How do you take a 37-year professional career and summarize it in a one-page biography? Or record it properly on LinkedIn? Or provide the relevant details in a CV or résumé? Or communicate history to impress the listener in a 60-minute interview? Does a 360°-multirater feedback survey actually describe my capabilities? Does an EQ, IQ or PXT® aptitude test capture all of my personality traits and describe them in the right context or reveal just how intelligent or unintelligent I am?

 During a year of transition, I remember meeting with a psychologist whose task was to apply the typical executive assessments, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®, read and interpret the results, and then advise me on who I am. Afterwards, I questioned his coaching: “How can you draw such conclusions without context, personal knowledge, observation or relationship?” How can various assigned letters, numbers, colours, animals, shapes and symbols define who I am and how I will behave?

The only person who has the knowledge and the right to define myself and my behaviour is me. Unfortunately, my attempts to provide a legitimate self-definition are negatively influenced and driven by three main variables:

1. Acceptance
2. People
3. Circumstances

1. The Need for Acceptance

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a psychology theory on human motivation, is often interpreted as a pyramid representing how we are driven and motivated by various influencers: physiology, safety, love/belonging, esteem and self-actualization. While self-actualization is at the top of the pyramid, our need for acceptance is of equal importance.

To illustrate this point, football and hockey were not my best sports in college. I excelled primarily at soccer and baseball. But in Canada, soccer and baseball had not yet risen to prominence, so to fit in and be accepted, I joined what every young Canadian should be a part of – a local hockey team. I had purchased all new equipment, and I looked really good. In my first game, I scored three goals. My team was impressed. Unfortunately, I didn’t score any more goals for the rest of the season, which was not so impressive. As a result, I was reassigned as a defenceman. It was decided that if I couldn’t score, at least because of my size, I could physically stop the other players from scoring. Throughout this experience, I allowed my need for acceptance to convince me that I should be part of something I was neither skilled at nor enjoyed.

In everyday life, we do much the same. To be accepted, we are convinced we must wear a certain brand, drive a particular car, live in a chosen neighbourhood, or dine at a specific restaurant. We are always under pressure to fit in and be accepted. For many, it becomes an obsession to the point of destruction. It can be exhausting, discouraging and demotivating, especially if we don’t receive the response we seek.

Why do we do that to ourselves?

2. Dealing with Difficult People

I am tired of people trying to define my life for me, especially difficult people. These types can be so imposing that their behaviour borders on bullying. I respect those who have been given exceptional responsibility and which may be reflected in a title, position and even wealth. However, their status does not give them the right to lord over me.

Over the last 37 years, I have dealt with many different types of people. Nonetheless, the ones who make me laugh are those who sit proudly in their chairs and highly believe in their own self-importance. Their style, language, comments, behaviours and attitudes are amusing. They actually believe there is a hierarchy of human value, of which they occupy the top rank. We are all created equal; no race, colour, age, gender, economy, culture, place, religion or philosophy has the right to value anyone more than others. Unfortunately, I have found that our personal anxiety and insecurity become the bully’s licence to manipulate and control our lives.

Why do we allow them to do this to us?

3. Dominated by Circumstances

Some of the circumstances in which we find ourselves can be debilitating. Whether it is a situation due to relationship, health, finances, location, employment, friends or family, it can be overwhelming. But circumstances do not and must not define us. Circumstances are temporal; they need not be permanent, nor must they be definitive.

I remember that one of my brothers was travelling a tough path early in his life. Each evening, he would sweep through the streets, looking for bottles that could be returned for cash. He would then use the money to purchase gas so he could drive to work the next day. Nonetheless, that circumstance did not define who he was, and he did not let it prevent his ability to achieve. He believed he was capable of great things. Within a year, he had changed jobs and was given an opportunity to restructure and develop a financial services business, which eventually made him a multi-millionaire.

Why do we submit to circumstance?

The Decision that can Change Your Life

The decision that can change your life is the decision to define your own life, your way.

Don’t yield to the great temptation to be accepted by others. Don’t allow others to tell you who and what you should be. Don’t succumb to circumstances that might imprison your life forever.

Who do you say that I am? Very interesting! Let me tell you. My name is Merv. I have the ability to become what God put me on this Earth to be. Neither circumstance, nor people, nor a worldly temptation to be someone else will prevent me from fulfilling that destiny.

How about you?