I had the great pleasure of spending an hour with Larry Ackerman, founder of ‘The Identity Circle’. Larry feels that identity strength—how well you know 1) what makes you special and 2) what you will work to achieve no matter what obstacles get the way—is the key to your happiness. However, many of us lose contact with or never know what our “life force” is. We get busy doing other things, like surviving or focusing on what we think we should be doing.
Larry shared the following story with me. At the end, you’ll find an exercise to help you name your Life Force.
How can you succeed if you don’t know who you are?
After working hard for many years to be a success, you may stop one day and ask yourself who you are. You’ve had to leave your children in the hands of nannies, you’ve dressed for success, you’ve sacrificed your female intuition on the altar of marketing data, and you’ve brushed off sexual innuendos. Did you give up yourself in the process? Can you strip away the “shoulds” and define who you are when you feel fully alive and empowered?
Recovering one’s sense of self can seem like a daunting task. My friend Terry was a fighter. Terry had risen through the ranks of a well-respected health care organisation to become a vice president. Yet despite her seemingly successful career, she wasn’t happy.
Much of Terry’s drive to succeed had been trained into her as a child. With the best of intentions, her parents had insisted she follow a corporate career path. They believed that a traditional path was the only way to ensure Terry would be able to live independently, no matter what fate might bring.
At the age of 47, Terry developed a persistent, gnawing pain at the base of her stomach. After struggling to relieve the pain, she woke up one day with the realisation that the pain was telling her she needed to stop. She needed to stop working so hard and give herself the space to re-claim, as she put it, “the human being inside the well-paid executive” she’d worked so hard to become.
Terry courageously took herself on a path of self-discovery. In the months that followed, Terry’s emotions ran from elation to despair, but she was determined to clarify her identity — not simply as a woman; but as the unique individual she was. It took about four months, but Terry finally succeeded, coming to see that she was driven by one thing, one purpose, above all: to help people and organisations find the freedom to grow. This was Terry at her core; not Terry the executive, nor Terry the woman, but, simply, Terry the person.
Terry remained with her company, but many things changed. Re-energized, she joined the corporate innovation council, contributing new ideas for growth. At her request (and as strange as it may seem) internal communications now reports to Terry, so she has a direct connection with employees, which she relishes. Today, Terry promotes ‘identity conversations’ among her direct reports and encourages them to do the same with theirs.
Clarifying your identity — those unique characteristics that reveal your value-creating potential — can give you a fresh start on life, no matter how old you are, no matter what you have or haven’t accomplished, so far.
The process of identity discovery includes:
1. Start by defining yourself as separate from all others. Name the ways in which you are distinctly different from people you are closest to: your spouse/partner, parents, or best friend. Recognise that you’re not simply your labels, including your gender.
2. Unearth what you love. Identify four or five activities you love to do, such as skiing, cooking, travel, or horseback-riding. Then ask yourself why you love each. Once you’ve exhausted the ‘whys,’ look for patterns across these activities to see what themes emerge. These themes reveal what you really love and the innate capacities that are your greatest strengths.
3. Name the most important achievements of your life, beginning in childhood. What moments, large or small, have been most meaningful to you? Keep them simple and concrete. What is the pattern, or theme, that emerges among them all? It’s always there. Taking this step reveals your life force — the natural way you meet challenges and solve problems.
You can crack the code on your identity by combining the insights from these steps.
I have been working Larry’s steps to help define what I want to focus on in the next 10 years, which may be the last 10 years of my full-time career. I found it useful to give my life force a name or label. It could be as large as “breaking boundaries” or as sweet as “making connections.” See what comes up when you connect your dots.
When you allow yourself to focus on the force that fuels your life, you achieve amazing things that fill your heart not just your bank account. If this force is suppressed, you feel trapped or numb.
What is your life force?
Marcia Reynolds, Psy.D. is the bestselling author of Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction. She is a professional coach and leadership trainer who teaches how to “outsmart your brain” to overcome challenges and find fulfilment on the road to success. Read more about her and her work at http://www.OutsmartYourBrain.com. What are the core ingredients that very few people know about that will help you take “NEXT” steps in your life? To find out send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org