“Who are you?” he asked. Then my new client waited for me to answer the hardest question in the history of the world.
Who are you?
My brain immediately skirted over the obvious – I’m a woman, a personal coach, a daughter, British, etc… Whilst true, it’s mundane. It isn’t the core of who I am. Whilst I would be different, I would still be me if I had a different profession, if I lived in a different country or underwent surgery.
Who are you?
I’m warm, sociable and optimistic with a natural ability to move through emotions quickly; I can also be passive aggressive and snappy. Green is my favourite colour, I eat pasta almost every day and know absolutely nothing about sports.
I didn’t tell him this because this isn’t who I am either. I could swap pasta for pizza and decorate my house in orange and I’d still be me. Sometimes I’m introverted, sometimes I’m powerful and take responsibility in life and other times I sit back and ask what I’m supposed to do next. In all of these spaces, I’m still me.
Who are you?
Love, balance and authenticity sit at the top of my values list, not necessarily in that order. I believe people are ultimately good, there is a non-material element to the universe and love goes hand-in-hand with autonomy.
Tomorrow my values could change, I may become a materialist… I will still be me.
So who are we if we aren’t our body, our social labels, our personality, our preferences, our beliefs or our principles?
Maybe the question isn’t who am I but what am I?
I am a multitude of paradoxes. Light and dark, loud and soft, powerful and vulnerable, sociable and introspective. I can be happy and sad; sometimes I believe everything is possible and other times I sit in a swamp of self-imposed limitations. I am eternal and temporary, material and immaterial, aware and ignorant, and with knowledge I sit in the unknown.
Conflict and paradox
On my way to the Everest Basecamp, I was talking to an existential coach and philosopher about paradox. He shared how much he struggled to reconcile paradoxes he experienced, such yearning for independence whilst desiring a romantic relationship.
His paradox was accompanied by conflict, the feeling that these opposing desires were tugging in different directions and could not be reconciled. Not only uncomfortable, this inner conflict can leave us feeling powerless, sitting on the fence, unable to make decisions and take action.
Dealing with inner conflict is what my clients and I work on in almost every session. One part of us wants one thing whilst another part of us objects or simply wants something different. We feel torn.
In my experience conflict is resolved, not when we push paradox away, but when we embrace it. When we recognise that we can be jealous and still celebrate a friend’s success, when we experience our own power amongst our feelings of fear, when we feel compelled to say yes to everyone’s demands and can acknowledge our frustration and resentment in doing so, we can effect change. In recognising the paradoxes within us, we can meet each side, consciously taking the reins of our experiences. We can acknowledge what we really want and need, expressing our desires and truths both to ourselves and others, eventually taking action on what was once the impossible.
There is power in paradox. When our paradox is embraced, our potential expands.
Expanding who we are
Activating our potential begins with recognising it. We are made up of a plethora of qualities and states – some are active, some are dormant, some are conscious, some are unconscious. In other words, every quality you can imagine lives within you already (even if you don’t feel it!).
From this standpoint, we don’t need to ‘find’ ourselves, we don’t need to ‘become whole’ or ‘fix’ ourselves. We simply need to acknowledge the paradox of who (and what) we are. From here, we can give ourselves permission to experience our own wholeness and awaken the sides of ourselves that we’ve hidden away.
We are both the artist and the canvas with every sublimely magnificent colour at our fingertips.
I was recently asked: if you stripped away all the labels and all the masks, who are you?
The image in my mind appeared immediately; the feeling of freedom and liberation enveloped me.
“I am everything and nothing.”
Image painted by June Sees.
If anything in this post has resonated, touched you or triggered something for you in any way, please feel free to get in touch and share you experience by contacting me here.
Also published on Medium.