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Are you a “which-what-who”?

I wish that I had duck feet

One of my all time favourite books is “I wish that I had duck feet” by Dr Seuss. I used this wonderful book in a blog before – see I wish my job had duck feet. And I confess to sneaking into bookstores and having a quick read of those treasured words. I’m thinking perhaps I’m ready to have another copy of my own. 

Even as a small child, I was fascinated by the concept of being yourself. So I loved reading how duck feet, deer horns or a whale spout – might help you solve some problems and achieve some dreams for a while. But in the end you’d end up behind bars as a “which-what-who” eating “hay just hay two times a day”.

And I loved that the get out of jail free card for our little boy was to find his real self and reach the point where he could say “And that is why…I think that I…just wish to be like me” – and mean it.

And I have always consciously tried to live that. I have valued being myself and making up my own mind over things. But lately I’ve found it’s just not so clear and easy to know who you are. You can be a “which-what-who” without knowing it. You can be a “which-what-who” and think that is really you.

So who are you really? And how do you find out?

A “which-what-who” moment

For me, a recent “which-what-who” moment came about as part of the work I’m doing with my executive coach.

We’d been talking a lot about career goals and how important it is to live in your own skin in order to come up with authentic and meaningful goals. This involved looking myself in the eye and asking questions like: “Who am I really?”, “What are my values?”, “What are my strengths?”, “Is the way I’m living consistent with all of that?”

And I realised, that even though I had for many years consciously decided to make up my own mind about things, I’d been holding two mutually exclusive ideals up as important standards for myself. I was wearing “deer horns” and a “whale spout” – and thinking all was OK. 

My “deer horns” was holding up as holy the “earth-mother” lifestyle of nurturing my family, making healthy and nourishing meals, baking bread (something I don’t even like doing), lovingly doing the laundry (never turning anything red), mending clothes and taking the kids to countless mind-expanding after-school activities, and all that sort of thing. I’d look at women who lived like this and wonder why I was failing.

My “whale spout” was holding up as equally holy the “go-getter CEO in the making” lifestyle of pursuing career goals, chasing promotions, running a business, earning a handsome income, influencing society, making enormous and important contributions to the medical world, and just generally saving humanity. I’d look at women who lived like this and wonder why I was failing.

But I never realised that it was ridiculous. I never realised that by chasing both I missing out on really being me. And doing what I’m really meant to be doing.

I wish to be like me

And so I’ve started admitting to myself who the real me is in this regard. I’m definitely not an earth-mother. Let’s face it folks, I just don’t like baking all that much. Neither am I the go-getting CEO type.

So I’ve had to think very carefully about what is truly me, which way of life is energising, which way of living brings me to life.

And I’ve had to let go of the “earth mother” and “go getter” values I’d been living by.

Bit by bit I’ve admitted to myself that I’m energised by going to work in a way that I’ll never be through staying at home. And that’s OK.

Bit by bit I’ve admitted to myself that when it comes to work, meaning is more important than status. A good match with skills and talents is more important than what everyone else thinks I could or should be doing. And that’s OK too.

And so work in some form or fashion I must. That will energise me in a way where I can creatively nurture my family – and then we’ll all be better off.

It will be a journey, I’ve no doubt of that. But now I’ve got the foundations for success. By leaving the “which-what-who” behind I can stand tall and finally say for myself:

“And that is why…I think that I…just wish to be like me”

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