27 September 2023

Defining yourself in one word

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Bruce Kasanoff* suggests an exercise where people choose one word that captures how they want others to perceive them, and if that can sit well with their actual workplace titles.

In a recent conversation about ego, I was challenged to imagine the idea that I am ‘nobody’ — not an executive coach, not a writer, not a father, not a skier.

That is, could I just ‘be’, moving through life without a label?

This is a deceptively difficult challenge.

We are taught to do the opposite, to have a clear public positioning so as to increase our worth in the marketplace.

Let’s dive in a bit and see where it takes us.

What if you replaced your labels (Senior Vice President or Creative Director or Furniture Maker or Stay at Home Dad) with a single energy or emotion?

Could you come up with one that captures who you want to be and how you want to be perceived?

To illustrate, here are a few possibilities: Compassionate, kind, resilient, loyal, grateful, strong, loving.

I am drawn to ‘loving’, because it pulls me towards my best self.

While I am capable of being analytical, forceful or tenacious, those orientations don’t bring out the best in me.

In contrast, when I accept others for who and what they are, it benefits both others as well as me.

Let’s take this one more step.

Once you choose an energy or emotion, how might that affect the labels that traditionally define you?

For example, could you co-exist as both ‘grateful’ and ‘Business Analyzt, Level Three’? Can you be both ‘generous’ and ‘Chief Executive’?

If you had to move through life with both one new word and your traditional labels, which do you think would predominate?

Recognising that this is just an exercise — and that you don’t actually have to live with one word for the rest of your life — what word first comes to mind, and why?

Finally, if you are hesitating to share a word, I want to say two things.

First, my intention is to spark a conversation that benefits us all.

Second, being open and genuine about what you feel inside is the shortest and most certain path to a life that fills you with joy.

For most of us, it’s a learned habit; this is a great time to start practicing.

*Bruce Kasanoff is the founder of The Journey, a newsletter for positive, uplifting and accomplished professionals. He can be contacted at kasanoff.com.

This article first appeared at kasanoff.com

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