Most people are familiar with the old saying, "What does it take to get to Carnegie Hall? Answer: Practice, practice, practice." In fact psychological research summarized in Malcolm Gladwell's recent book Outliers does identify practice, approximately ten years of it, as the key requirement for reaching expertise in fields as varied as professional ice hockey and computer programming. How are these findings applicable to self-discovery? They suggest that given all the pressures to conform generated by our family, employer, peer group, and society at large, we may reach adulthood having had a lot of opportunity to work at being who others want us to be but much less practice at being who we want to be.
For example, we all need to become expert at particular societal roles - student, worker, mother, husband, etc. Initially we work hard to discover the norms of good behavior for a role and strive to act according to these norms. Yet in order to fulfill our roles effectively, they must flow from and be congruent with our values, principles and dreams as opposed to just echoing those of others. In order to increase our skill at the roles we want and need to play in life, we need to know what motivates, satisfies and engages us. Without clarity on such issues, being our best self can seem an unattainable goal. If we're not careful, we can expend needless energy trying to discharge our roles in a way that is imposed or unnatural rather than one that is rooted in our unique gifts. Eventually, such an approach is not sustainable and is a recipe for emptiness and fatigue.
How might we rehearse being our true selves while at the same time fulfilling our necessary life roles? Here are a few suggestions to help you reap the benefits of developing self-expertise alongside role-expertise:
• Take time to reflect on your values, noting where they are uniquely your own and where they might be ones you picked up from others; if they are the latter, decide if they truly suit you.
• Think of people you admire, who carry out their responsibilities in a way you respect, and consider modeling your behavior on their approach.
• Recognize from examples in your own life that there are multiple ways to do a good job at something and use this knowledge to help you do what you have to do with as much creativity and personal flair as possible.
• Practice allowing yourself to do things your way, remembering that as long as you accomplish what you need to do, you can grant yourself permission to do things as you see fit.
Self-Discovery Tool Number 28
Explore being who you want to be without sacrificing either your ideals or your ability to carry out your obligations. Adapt your current roles so that they bring you more pleasure and lead you to a deeper sense of alignment with what really matters to you. Make rehearsal time a priority. Practice, practice, practice to make your roles your own - boost your energy and have more fun when taking care of life's responsibilities!