*This article has been revised and updated, 19 June 2023
Who Are You?
Do you know the answer to that question? Life Leaders know it’s the first step in becoming successful.
If you had asked some of the greatest people in history who they were—Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Jesus—they would’ve answered in a flash.
They had come to know without a doubt who and what they were. It was their identity, their motivation, their reason for being.
The statement ‘I am’ is one of the most powerful phrases in the human language. Great and successful people realise this.
They know that a deep-seated knowing of who they are, of knowing instantly, focuses Life’s power in the same way a magnifying lens focuses the power of sunlight.
With a simple magnifying glass, you hold in your hand the power to burn down a forest. Imagine what you could do with the power of ‘I am’.
This power is open to everyone. However, few use it consciously.
Successful people, though, deliberately maximise the power of knowing who they are to fuel their success. Others—the moderately successful—only have a vague idea of who they are, and so only attain a certain level of success. Others still—the least successful—have no idea of who they are, nor that their success comes through them, and their level of success is a daily reflection of that knowing.
Take a moment to reflect on the level of success you’ve reached to now.
- Are you highly successful, moderately successful, or not at all successful?
- Are you happy with the level of your success?
- Is there something holding you back?
The 80:20 rule applies in this instance. If you’re not satisfied with the level of your success, 20% of the limiting factor is outside your control, which means 80% of the limiting factor is within you.
But this is good news. You can control 80% of the factors implicit in your success.
The Power to Choose
No matter where you’re at or what you’ve achieved, no matter your age, sex or race, you hold the key to your future prosperity. Nobody else. Not even your circumstances, because
Life-circumstances don’t make or break who you are, they reveal who you are.
You are in possession of everything you need to succeed. That key is the power to choose; and the most potent use of this key is the power to choose who you are, because this determines everything.
Victor Frankl, holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, (Victor Frankl. Man’s Search for Meaning, Beacon Press, 1959, first published 1946, Austria) discovered through surviving two Nazi death camps that no matter what happens to you, no matter what fate befalls you, you always have the power to choose—you always have free will:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
He also said:
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
In that space between stimulus and response is you. You reside in that space between what’s happening to you and your reaction to what’s happening, between action and reaction.
Psychologists estimate we have between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts a day. Although some argue it’s far less, some argue it’s in fact far more. What isn’t contentious is that we do have thousands of thoughts flowing through our minds every day.
René Descartes, the 17th Century French philosopher, famously wrote, Cogito ergo sum:
I think, therefore I am.
He was pointing to the thinker behind your thoughts, your conscious awareness, not the products of that consciousness—your thoughts, your beliefs, your emotions, your instincts.
Descartes insists that you are not these things. You are the creator of those thoughts.
You are the power that can choose who you are.
Defining Who You Are
Just as you are not your thoughts, neither are you your emotions or desires. Emotions are just states of being. They are not ‘you’ per se, just a state of existence in which you have immersed yourself.
Think of emotions as bath water. When you immerse yourself in the bath, you might say the water is hot, warm or cold. But you don’t say the water temperature is you. It’s just an experience.
Likewise, anger, happiness, frustrations, fear, and all your other emotions are just an experience, a state of being you are immersed in. They are not you. Like your thoughts, you have created them.
So too you are not your body either. Your body is in a perpetual cycle of birth and rebirth. Doctors estimate that over an average lifetime of 75 years, the human body is replaced at least seven times, and it could be even more.
That means every single cell in your body, and it’s happening fast. The body you have now—it’s bones, muscles, skin, stomach, liver, blood, brain, lungs, heart—will not be the same body by the time you finish this book and put it down.
This means you’re not the same ‘you’ you were yesterday, even an hour ago.
So, if you’re not your thoughts, your emotions, or your body, who are you?
The truth is, you define who you are.
You actually do it all the time. Unfortunately, it probably happens on autopilot, with little thought or consideration.
Successful people, however, do it consciously, with great thought and consideration. They are in full control of the process of defining who they are and acknowledge the responsibility for it, but they also know that responsibility stems from taking ownership.
If you don’t own something, you have little responsibility for it, if any.
Taking ownership of who you are is therefore a prerequisite for taking responsibility for who you are.
Taking Ownership of Who You Are
So your first step on your Life Leadership journey is to own who you are, define who you are, and take responsibility for who you are. If you are reluctant to do this, society or somebody else will gladly do it for you. They will gladly mould you in the image of who and what they want for themselves, invariably for their own benefit.
Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady of the United States from 1933-1945, said (Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life, Westminster John Knox Press, 1960, revised edition):
‘When you adopt the standards and values of someone else or a community or a pressure group, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.’
Successful people don’t let others tell them who they are. So don’t allow yourself to be moulded in the image of others. Certainly learn from others, but don’t accept their definition of you.
Don’t surrender your integrity and become less of a human being.
Because your personal brand of success begins with who you are, your vision of yourself is the starting point of your success.
It really is the most important part of the process. Get it right and everything else that follows will fall into place.
So make that vision a healthy vision. It doesn’t matter what age you are right now; what matters is that you actively seek to put into place the truest vision of who you want to be so that your future success can be grown from solid roots.
This is the power of ‘I Am’. It is the acorn from which the mighty oak grows.
Plant it in a fertile mind, nurture it with intentional thoughts, ideas and images, and who you are will grow into something bigger and better than you could have ever dreamed.