This is the fifth in the series of posts about ‘relational learning’; how we learn about ourselves through our relationships with others. This week, I'm reflecting on a couple of questions that I was asked last week. Click for posts one, two, three and four.
This question was asked of me last week, to share my answer amongst a group of people I’d never met before and it’s lingered with me, partly because at the end of the day, I was also asked if I’d been able to be myself?
I grew up seeking to ‘be my best self’, to show myself in the ‘best light’, to seek out environments in which I can be my ‘best’. As a leader, it was important that I created spaces in which my team could learn to be their bests. I’m pretty sure that on reading this, it sounds familiar to most of you. The converse of this, is how toxic it can be for our well-being when we are less than our 'bests'; that there are situations in which we can fail to bring forth all our excellent qualities, maybe because of fear, tiredness, anxiety or many other factors. We can get into loops of anxiety with the chance of being our best getting further and further away.
So here are my questions… if we are less than our best, does that mean that we are less than our self? Does it mean that we are someone else? Or does it mean we are just another, equally valid version of our self, bringing forth different qualities to the situation?
In short, I got tired of always trying to be my best. The relational lens has helped relieve the pressure of trying so hard. What if I am able to show up as I am today and that's ok? The way I try and see my ‘self’ these days, is that different ‘selfs’ show up in response to different people and situations. In the group situation last week, I was my ‘self’ because I can only ever be that!
What I noticed about that ‘self’ in the group situation, was that I had a great urge to be supportive and appreciative of others. This arose for me as the day had a purpose of establishing whether we were a good fit to work together combines with elements of competitive collaboration. I noticed I also had some momentary self-doubt. This tends to appear as a signal that I have formed a desire and really want something. So my instinct was to say ‘yes’ when asked ‘have you been yourself’ at the end of the day, and yet, at the same time leave thinking…. ‘and... I am more than this one day’.
Next time you get asked ‘Who are you?’ perhaps consider who you are in the moment, consider who you are with them in that moment and give your from that perspective.
And next time you ask the question ‘Who are you?’, perhaps follow up with a second question Inspired by this Linkedin Article):
How is... who you are today, different from how you are when you’re at home/work/with your children/with your partner (substitute/add as relevant)?
The joy of the second question is that it recognises we can be many things; and it can start to support a deeper connection between us.
Bringing it back to Relational Learning & the two questions, here's my summary:
A Big PS - Just because there are different selfs that turn up, doesn't mean that they all have to be taken as given. We can still choose to notice our patterns of response to situations and people; we can then choose to experiment with different approaches to shift our values, beliefs and behaviours to change what we’re co-creating.
Felicity Hodkinson is a leadership coach working with individuals and groups, creator of ‘relational learning experiences’ and founder of Bend the River. She combines her marketing, commercial and change management experience of 20 years gained in small business and corporate FTSE100 companies with her passion for coaching individuals and organisations.
Email Felicity to explore how this coaching approach could help you develop your leadership practices. Read her recent article on 'Softening the Goal Mindset' in Global Coaching Perspectives, July 2016 (the magazine from the Association for Coaching).