Coaching

“Who Am I?” (v15,493) – How To Regain Momentum In 3 Mins

If you’re anything like me, you might like to just get straight to the “how to” part.


So here it is.


I’ll explain the backstory afterwards.

Regaining Momentum

As an experiment, I’ve tried this exercise recently with people feeling stuck in different situations: intense negotiations, family troubles, stepping down from their business and assessing job opportunities.


They found it useful. I hope you do too.



Do What Matters Exercise [3 mins]

  1. Open up a new note on your phone.

  2. Title it Daily Practice.

  3. Write in a sub header: Do What Matters

  4. Then allow yourself only 30 seconds to write your responses to each of the 6 questions below in the note you just created.

[NB: I say 30 secs for 2 reasons – firstly to stop perfectionism taking over, secondly to get you up and running as quickly as possible. You don’t need perfect answers here. If you don’t know an answer just write something down. Something is infinitely better than nothing. In my experience, you’ll have a very good gut sense of what matters to you. You can always refine it later.]

Questions (copy these directly into your note)

  1. What are your values?

  2. Who is important to you?
    It can be specific people or groups of people. An important note: I find people often don’t include themselves. This is an exercise in self awareness. Without you, there are no other relationships. So please make sure your name is on the list.

  3. What is important to you?
    This can be broad or specific. They might be goals or more generalised concepts. Up to you.

  4. What is your purpose?
    If you don’t have one, take a guess.

  5. What would you willingly do for free?

  6. What energises you?

Then check this note ideally every day or, if not, then at least whenever you’re feeling stuck.

Add to it and edit it as you see fit. Then use it to guide your decisions and actions.


That’s it.


[If you choose to give this a crack, please let me know how you go in the comments or contact me directly.]



I’ve found that connecting to importance is a pathway to regaining a sense of momentum. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed. Other times acceptance and mindfulness are a required part of the process too.


Bringing some definition to who I am and then reconnecting with it helps me create an internal locus of control and helps me distinguish between my reaction to the situation (which I can’t control) and my response (which I can).

The Backstory

When I resigned recently, I was trying to decide what to do next. I had identified so strongly with my role in my business that when that was removed, I felt I’d lost a part of my identity. I felt stuck.


“Who am I?”
wasn’t a question I could easily answer.


When I did begin to think about it, there was a risk of my response becoming a philosophical swamp.


I opted for extreme utility instead.

Decoupling

I drew this sketch one day and it helped me to think about the situation.

Obviously, the circle in the middle represents who I am.


The radiating lines represent, at a macro level, the expression of who I am into the relationships I have in the world as a husband, father, friend, coach, founder, colleague and into various areas of my life – work, spirituality, health, fitness, social, leisure etc.


At a micro level, a line might represent the expression of who I am into very specific situations like a difficult conversation or my choice to do my work outs at home rather than going to a gym.


(I realised through COVID that the opportunity to train at home was in service of role modelling exercise for my daughters. This has been the single most important factor that has helped me stick to my strength and mobility program.)


Seeing things in this way allows me to decouple who I am from what I do.


It also allows me to choose how I engage in these various activities.

Definition

Once the decoupling became apparent, the next step was to bring some definition to answering “Who am I?”. (Some would say there is no “I”, but that’s for another conversation.)


There are a myriad of ways to do that and I’ve tried a bunch.


Values finders, strengths finders, psychometric profiling, vision building tools etc. I’ve always enjoyed these kinds of rabbit holes. Some reports really resonated. But more often, they have ended up buried as attachments in my email, never to be seen again.


The other challenge with these exercises is that they can take a long time. The time investment becomes a barrier to getting started and a barrier to putting the insights into practice. And to me, that’s where all the value is created.


So 8 weeks ago, rather than starting from a blank page, I opted to grab what I had – my values and a vision statement that I’d done in past exercises. I hadn’t created the Do What Matters exercise at that point.


I added them to a note to reflect on each day before I started work.

Editable

I found myself editing that note most days or simply highlighting parts that didn’t sit well or I felt needed updating. I also added some things like purpose and behavioural principles.


By having it editable, I’d stumbled across an empowering insight: I have the chance to change it every day if I choose; to make it more of who I am; to remove parts that no longer fit.

What my note currently looks like

This is different to how your note will have turned out. I didn’t have that exercise structure when I started this.

It absolutely captures the essence of my responses to those questions though. They’ve just been captured and rewritten in a different format.

Feel free to copy this too if you’d prefer to use this as a starting point. I’ll leave up to you.

Daily Practice

Version 15,493 [NB: I’ll explain this next]

Do What Matters

Purpose

  • To build a better world by helping people bring all of who they are to everything they do.

Values

  • Love ❤️
  • Gratitude 🙏
  • Humility 🌱
  • Exploration 🌌
  • Contribution 🌅

Vision

I earn respect by being deeply connected to my family, friends, work and life; by exploring ways to bring all of me to everything I do and helping others do the same.

People say that I am humble and a voracious learner; that I integrate all parts of life; that I’ve connected them with fascinating people and had a tonne of fun together.

I build trust by doing what matters; acknowledging when I’m wrong; listening and asking questions first; sharing my stories; living my strengths and walking my talk.

The highest standards I uphold are characterised by focus, patience, reflection and action.

My legacy will be that I loved deeply and was loved in return; that I impacted the lives of my family, friends and millions globally; that I made the world a better place; that I had an impact on the grand challenges of our time; that I contributed far more to humanity’s pool than I took away.

Behavioural Principles

  • Committed action I am all in. I bring all of me to everything I do. It’s hell yeah or not at all. Pressure, stress, fear, vulnerability are the price of entry.

  • Ideas are free, strategy + execution is everything. I pause and consider then execute fast to test and learn.

  • Do what matters I manage priorities not time. Importance is my compass, as is fear. Time is non-renewable.

Version 15,493

A few weeks after I’d resigned, a friend asked me: “How’s Toby 2.0 going?”.


It was the editability of the note that made me think that this wasn’t really version Toby 2.0.


How many versions had there actually been?


I realised that this note was an imperfect but workable definition of who I am today. And that there have been thousands of versions prior and hopefully many more to come.


I really like the idea of being an architect of who I am, so I found a calculator (link below) that would tell me how many days I’ve been alive.


Turns out it’s 15,493.


If versioning happens daily, and assuming I make it, then tomorrow I’ll be at version 15,494.


I realised that the work of being myself is never done, it doesn’t have to be perfect and I can always update it tomorrow as I reflect and learn.


Until death that is.


I find that liberating.



Associated Links

Calculator

Other posts about transition

[Podcast] The Power of Decoupling Identity, Building An Internal Compass, Waking Up At 3am, Filling The Void, My Daily Practice

Jack Ferguson (entrepreneur, host of The Push business podcast) and I caught up recently.

It became clear very quickly that we were in similar situations. Having both gone through big challenges and change in our businesses, and neither of us really knowing what the next step is, it seemed like a good idea to explore this on Jack’s podcast.

In this episode we speak about:

  • How and why I’m working at decoupling my identity
  • What was waking me up in the middle of the night.
  • What recently happened to Jack that has him in a tailspin.
  • Choosing to hit publish on vulnerable content.
  • Becoming more of who I am.
  • Trying not to mentally fast forward through crappy times.
  • How to do the work of defining values to use them to navigate uncertainty.

It’s cool to be able to share this kind of thing publicly, so thanks to Jack for initiating it. You can find him on LinkedIn.

Trailer

Listen on

Stitcher: https://lnkd.in/gwdiQ_8

Apple Podcasts: https://lnkd.in/g4d4Fww

Spotify: https://lnkd.in/gUVRW2x

Google Podcasts: https://lnkd.in/gVA7Rzy

 

Show Notes

Conversation Time Stamps

3:00 What business are you currently involved in?

5:25 Why have you done decoupling work?

8:45 Why were you getting up at 3am?

19:00 Why cutting away is usually superior to addition.

21:25 What impacts achievement more? Personal attributes or one’s environment?

28:00 Why did you decide to post vulnerable content recently?

34:20 What questions do you ask to understand who you are?

39:00 Strategy vs Execution.

42:20 How long did you feel content after the olympics?

45:20 How did you manage identity changes when moving between careers?

50:00 What are your experiences of going all in?

Reference Links and Resources

Is Perseverance Toxic?

A founder had an extraordinary business. By any external measure they were hugely “successful”.


And yet, they’d hit a low point. They’d driven out for dinner and drinks then woken up at home in the morning. They walked outside and saw their car parked in the drive. They couldn’t remember how it got there. Couldn’t remember driving it home.


They’d been persevering at work, despite not enjoying it, for years. It was costing them enormously – physically, emotionally and in their relationships. They’d had enough. They’d decided it was time to go, they just needed to figure out how.


We had conversations about it. Where had the enjoyment gone? How would they navigate the transition out? What would they do next?


One day, they mentioned generosity a few times.


“What does generosity mean to you?”


They leaned forward.


“That was the time I travelled overseas to help in a charity. 


And, now you mention it, we used to have monthly events in the business where we’d bring in a local charity and raise money. We haven’t done that for years.


If we were to do that again it would be a growth strategy for us.


It would also be a great defensive strategy. The landlord at one of our locations is trying to kick us out. It would be much harder for them to do that if we had the local community onboard.


Actually… Can we go for a walk?”


The energy shifted. For 90 minutes we walked by the river, revisiting very specific behaviours in their past that brought generosity to life. Could generosity be brought back into the business and their day moving forward?


That was the switch. From throwing it all in, to not just sticking with it, but growing the business to increase their impact. Big time.


There was the performance conversation scheduled for that afternoon, leading and managing hundreds of staff, challenging conversations required with business partners, figuring out a new org structure to handle the growth…


The challenge, the effort, the adversity – none of that had changed.


But their relationship to it had.


Quite suddenly, the perseverance was in service of something more.


Generosity
.

Broken Glass

Before we go further, there’s a hypothetical I’d like you to consider.


+++++++


I smash glass on the floor in front of you.


I ask: “Would you be willing to walk over the glass in bare feet?”


No thanks.


So I change just one condition – same smashed glass, same bare feet.


Now I ask you to bring to mind the person most important to you in the world. They are in distress on the other side of the glass and they need your help.


Then I ask: “Would you now be willing to walk over the glass in bare feet?”


Typically there is the opposite response.


++++++++


What does the change in response show?


It shows that humans are terrible at suffering pointless pain. But, when we are clear about the importance of what it is on the other side of the pain, we won’t just endure it, we’ll embrace it.


The pain doesn’t change, but our relationship to it does. We are now willing to accept it in service of doing what matters to us.


The broken glass is a great metaphor for the thoughts, feelings and physiological sensations that show up in tough situations like stay/leave decisions or sitting in the void of transitions, or asking a “dumb question”, or challenging a boss, or holding someone to account, or speaking up, or stepping in…


Very rarely do we lack information about what to do in these situations or even how to approach them.


Nearly always we need to understand the importance of why we would attempt them in the first place.

Themes of Importance

When I reflect on the specifics of the founder conversation, I see a few themes:

  1. They reconnected to a core value: Generosity.

  2. They were immediately able to reflect on their past and point to specific behaviours and events when they felt they were bringing that to life. These were times of high energy and high impact that truly nourished them.

  3. They could see Generosity play out across multiple areas of their life: work, giving, travel, relationships etc.

  4. It was not about changing who they were or adding something new. If anything it was a realisation that one of their core values had been buried. Now that it was uncovered, it was time to bring it back to guide behaviour.

  5. As such, they were immediately able to see how it might be consciously brought back into present and future contexts and exactly what that would look like as behaviours or words in a conversation.

Persevere or Not?

I was asked recently what percentage of people choose to stay and what choose to go in these kinds of situations. I don’t know. And I’m not sure it’s useful to know – everyone’s circumstances are different.


I’ve found the more useful questions to ask myself are:

  1. What is truly important here?

  2. What is the short term pain, long term benefit of this decision?

  3. What is the short term benefit, long term cost of this decision?

As the serenity prayer goes:


Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.


I’ve felt the cost of persevering and have seen it in many others, regardless of how shiny the veneer or how many trophies in the cabinet.


I’ve seen people slowly lose themselves as they hung onto jobs, relationships, businesses, identities that buried their most important qualities and values.


I’ve grown up in a culture that said quitting was for losers.


I’ve grown up in a culture where the stories of perseverance in the face of adversity are celebrated and rightfully so. People are extraordinary.


But how often do we stop to consider the costs of perseverance? On ourselves, on our health, on the people around us, on what is truly important to us?


If perseverance is solely for its own sake or for the sake of ticking the next box, then I say hell yes. It’s toxic.


If perseverance is in service of values, of impact, of contribution, of something more important, then I’m all for it.