Seeing Yourself in a Different Light.
In 1987 at the start of my final year of school, my parents moved interstate and the two schools systems didn’t align. So, I either had to repeat a year (even though I hadn’t failed), or leave school. I made the decision to leave and started my adult life as a high-school dropout.
This ‘high school drop out’ identity wasn’t positive. It became the lens I saw myself through and it impacted how I saw my future.
The one thing I had done well at school was music. But I really struggled with science and maths. I was told by a career counsellor that ‘some people are creative’ while ‘others are analytical’.
So, now I was a creative, high school dropout.
The impact that ‘identities’ or ‘labels’ like this can have on us is more than we probably realise, and from my experience, led me to underestimate my potential and restrict my options for many years.
Fast forward, and I had gone back to finish school and was studying to be an Osteopath. Another identity. A powerful identity. Powerful because it was an exclusive group. Powerful because it was a positive identity. Powerful because of the status it would give me compared to being a ‘high school drop out’.
And yet, during that period of time, I went through a significant change in perspective. Instead of wanting to collect ‘identities’ I wanted to shed them.
I developed an internal resistance to being labelled as anything other than ‘me’, and this led to some friction with those around me who were very attached to their professional identity.
In fact, I was chastised by someone because I created a business card that read “Nic Lucas, Osteopath”, whereas apparently it should have been, “Osteopath, Nic Lucas.”
Such a subtle difference, and yet a signal of an internal battle that I know many people face.
Of course, there’s no right way or wrong way to go about this and I don’t think anyone should change the way they think about their identity just because I might think differently.
In my work with hundreds of people, I have found many of them have used their professional identity to create remarkable success, and yet at the same time their professional identity has caused them to feel constrained or restricted.
Interestingly, research has shown that not only do we tend to treat other people according to stereotypes, we also live up to our own stereotype of ourselves.
If I am XYZ ‘identity’ then I have to keep up appearances … and keeping up appearances can come with a lot of opportunity cost.
One of the questions I’m asked is ‘how I keep reinventing myself’.
But even that question reveals an underlying assumption about ‘identity’.
I simply answer by saying that I’ve never reinvented myself, and that the reason I have been able to do so many varied things is simply because I am being myself, and not locking myself into any one professional identity.
I’m not an ‘osteopath’.
I’m not a ‘publisher’.
I’m not a ‘lecturer.’
I’m not a ‘researcher.’
I’m not an ‘entrepreneur’.
And I’m not a ‘high school drop out’.
I’ve done all those things. I have all those skills. But I am not defined, elevated or restricted by any of them.
I am Nic. I’m a blank page and I can colour and shade at will.
What I think this means is that as we go through life, we acquire a continuous set of skills and experiences that we can use to leverage ourselves into all sorts of fascinating and unexpected situations. I also think that defining oneself by qualification or professional title will make it harder to think outside the box and recognise opportunity.
In fact, for some, this type of thinking might restrict them from following other dreams and aspirations or exploring their other talents and skills.
To give you a very practical example, I once found myself consulting one of Australia’s largest real estate companies. I was in the boardroom. Not only were there people sitting at that huge table, but there were people dialled in from other states.
And here I was talking about their business … from an wholistic point of view. I was talking about how structure and function are inter-related. I was talking about how problems in one area might be causing problems in another area … and that the link might not be immediately obvious.
I was talking about how just treating the symptoms might not be enough, and that they had to look more broadly at what might be contributing to the problem.
And what made me stand out, compared to other consulting they’d received, was exactly this way of thinking. None of the other consultants had spoken this way.
In fact, all the others had presented their ‘solution’ without talking about an ‘wholistic diagnosis’.
Who would have thought that the principles of Osteopathy I’d learned would be relevant in the boardrooms of Australia and would actually be a ‘point of difference’.
So, my encouragement is that you are a unique individual with a blank canvas. You have a range of skills, experiences, ideas and passions that you can draw on at any time. You are not constrained by a qualification or professional title, or by their associated stereotypes.
And if there was ever a time to ‘do it your way’ … then now is probably it.
In the words of Calvin Harris: “It’s not about what you’ve done, it’s about what you’re doing. It’s all about where you’re going, no matter where you’ve been.”
And in the words of Charles Darwin: “It is not the most intellectual or the strongest of species that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to and adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”
If you’d like to find out more about ‘adapting’, then come and hang out with me as I share my thinking as well as bringing in my friends and other experts who are doing the same.
I’ve set up a page here for you to jump on in here.
Dr Nic Lucas
BSc, MHSc, MPMed, PhD, ACTL
Founder & CEO, X10 Entrepreneur TM