How would you feel one day, if you suddenly discovered who you really are?

What if you woke up, looked yourself in the mirror and thought “wow, this is me” and you could totally understand why you think, feel and behave the way you? What if we took this one step further and you were accepted you for who you really are? Think about it, you were ‘allowed’ to be YOU and people at large looked at your patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving as being great, things that you do better than 1/33mil other people?

What about our children?

Many have been labelled:

  • Disruptive

  • Non-compliant

  • Over-active

  • Thinks too much

  • Just doesn’t think

  • Doesn’t fit in

  • Doesn’t want to listen

  • Fidgets

  • Is a poor learner

  • Can’t communicate

  • Talks too much

  • Can’t grasp the concepts

  • Is a loner

These things have not only been applied to your children, they’ve probably been applied to you too, and, as a result, you neither know who you or your children really are.

So, who the hell are we?

As we go through life, we are probably boxed into one of several negative labels and ultimately, we begin to wear masks.

We all wear masks

The mask of

  • “I’m always ok”

  • “I’ll be fine”

  • “I’ll get over this”

  • “I’m just doing this for now”

  • “I’m over-reacting”

  • “I just need some more time”

  • "It's from my upbringing"

  • "my Dad was like this"

  • "There's loads of people in the world like this"

We suffer with inertia when it comes to understanding one another. We have a way of wanting people to fit into what we consider to be normal, but what does normal mean?

An example is how we dress children in school uniforms for instance. This is a way of seeing everyone as ‘uniform and normal’ and it makes us feel ‘safe’. If the child deviates from the uniform by wearing, let’s say, black shoes, instead of brown, this will disrupt our perception of how we expect the child to behave and we will, no doubt, give him label to describe to ourselves, as to why he doesn’t fit into our description of what is acceptable and normal. He may feel he is being discriminated against. He will feel the ‘re-buff’ of the chiding he receives from his teachers and you, and maybe even the attention he receives from his peers. He begins to see himself as a 'negative' kind of different and yet, he could have been put on the earth to challenge status quo to create positive change. But we've already started beating him down. How could we change our own mindset to see the positive in who he is?

I watched an amazing Ted Talk recently given by a woman who describes her time at the beginning of her University education. She was in her first year. Now anyone who has ever started anything for a ‘first time’ knows, we are taken out of our comfort zone, away from the protection of the ‘normal’ that we know and have come to understand. We are challenged with thoughts of inadequacy, independence, dependence, coping mechanisms, stress, loneliness, disconnection, especially when we see those who 'appear to be' holding it all together.

In her first-year things were falling apart and she began to hear voices in her head. The ultimate consequence was that she was effectively ‘sentenced’ to a life of negative labelling as academia, the medical fraternity and her peers viewed her as something of a freak. So, on top of what she was already experiencing, she now had to deal with judgement, feeling misunderstood, alienated, marginalised. She was away from her family support system for the first time and I can only imagine how alone she must have felt. This was at a time in her life where what she really needed was empathy, acceptance, love, reassurance etc. etc. etc. the very ‘normal’ things we take for granted. Yet instead she found herself in a non-supportive, non-effective place. Where she should have taken weeks to recover, she instead walked a very long road and it took her close to 5 years to be well again. Without trivialising this, what she really needed was someone to help her to understand her own needs and contributions in the world in a non-judgemental way. Instead, to make ourselves feel better, we feel the need to issue negative labelling.

In the words of Stephen Covey "Seek First to Understand" (then to be Understood). We form our opinions based on our own limited experiences, often because this makes us feel safe. Working hard to understand the other person’s perspective can go a long way in realising how completely different our viewpoints can be. Believe it or not our Strengths, and how we think, feel and behave, inform how we communicate and that is why two people can often see the same thing differently and have a conflict of understanding.

Some people are far more sensitive to these kinds of situations than others. What one person can cope with, another person may feel continuously challenged. That’s OK. It’s OK, so long as we live in an environment of acceptance and understanding and a mindset of learning to first understand who we are. There is no education at schools that serves as this very fundamental basis of our human need. It is lacking and we desperately require change.

But what if it was ok to feel and behave in certain ways because as individuals we began to recognise and understand and be accepting of the why?

We can begin by starting with Children and helping them to understand who they really are. This brings a ‘pro-active’ approach. It is confidence building and builds self-esteem as children truly own who they are with inner confidence. This starts with us, excepting them for who they are and then allowing them to do the same.

In my work, I make use of a simple 45 minute online assessment which people as young as thirteen years of age can take and thus begin a journey, along with their parents and educators, to understand what talents they have, and how they can begin to develop these into Strengths.

Working with a qualified Strength Coach one can begin to understand that all of us are born with talents. Each of us have between 12-15. Our top five are our Strengths, because these are the talents we have paid the most attention to. Over time, once you understand your talents, you can begin to add skills, knowledge and passion and develop these others into Strengths too. If you have ever felt that something is missing in your life, this 'missing' part of you can begin to be uncovered, as you build on these talents and begin working with the Strengths that are so innately you.

Sometimes our Strengths can go into disequilibrium either through under-use, or over-use, when this happens we find ourselves being pushed into Independence (over-use) or dependence (under-use). By understanding who you really are you can begin the process of understanding what you do better than 33million other people and as you begin to accept yourself and your own greatness, you can begin to walk the journey of Interdependence – when you know who you are, and who you are not, and be happy with both. The great thing is, in learning who you are, you will see which talents you don’t have too, and you can make informed decisions about who you might need to team with to compliment what you have and allow others to bring their strengths.

When you can look yourself in the mirror and say “wow, this is me”, “I understand myself, I know what I’m good at and I know where I need others to fill in for what I’m not good at”, this is when (self) acceptance begins. You don’t need to be anyone other than yourself.

Life is a journey of emotional intelligence and maturity, where we can begin the process of Interdependence, working with others to complement who we are. You can let go of Independence and Dependence, both of which are ego either in overdrive or under-use. Both of which can cause unnecessary conflict in relationships.

So, are you ready to stand up and reveal your real self to the world?

There’s a one in 33 Million chance of anyone having the same top five strengths in the same order as you. Now isn't that something toally unique to celebrate?

In the words of Donald Clifton “what if we started looking at what was right with people”.

Sam McDonald is a Strengths Strategy Coach & Business Development Partner of Strengths Strategy® Inc. the leading strengths application organisation in the world.

She works with clients using the Strengthsfinder® assessment as a power tool which includes: - Strength Based Interviewing & Recruitment- Assisting motivated individuals to fall in love with their careers and find the work they were born to do- Working with high achievers to discover their value and purpose- Working with Start-ups to gain momentum, motivation & self awareness of the Entrepreneur- Assisting Students to gain a greater self awareness, expediting their career path, building confidence and self-asteem. - Working with individuals to re-engage in their work environments & leveraging their strengths- Working with marriage relationships to help you love again and understand the toxicity, reduce negative experiences, create understanding and, in turn, assist with long-term strategies for lasting transformation.

She teaches the 'Strategic Interdependence Model' & 'Confident Vulnerability' to focus on living 'Interdependence' as the key to healthier environments - choosing this over 'Dependence', 'Co-Dependence' & 'Independence'. www.sammcdonaldcoaching.co.uk

She has been married for 24 years, lives in Cape Town and has four children.

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