Posted by: communicationcoach | August 16, 2007

And who are you?

For the past few weeks, I’ve been dancing with an idea presented by Transformational Girlfriend Donna Karlin. It sits in front of my nose in 36-point type.

People become who they might be when they let go of who they are.”

My heart leaps and turns with vivid energy, excited by the possibility of discovering and becoming who I might be. My head takes steps rehearsed and perfected through decades of practice, all designed to keep me as I am. Head and heart are competing separately for centre stage – and applause – as in a pas de deux from an old ballet. Eventually, they will dance together. But not yet.

The brain scientists suggest the desire to change, however sincere or necessary, collides with the human brain’s natural aversion to change. That ancient “fight or flight” mechanism takes over when events, feelings or thoughts don’t match the old patterns. That primitive part of our brain interprets this as “danger” and renders us temporarily incapable of rational thought. It fills our head with worry, anxiety and other nonsense and our bodies with cortisol, adrenaline and who knows what other forms of crap and corruption. So we don’t change.

Two years ago, I thought I had changed. Forever and for good. For once and for all. I was invited to contribute a chapter to a book about women and power. In writing it, I determined I had found my real self and was, henceforth, going to be that. My chapter, posted here, Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear, describes the emergence of Susanna, my bolder, greater, less inhibited alter ego. She is the creature I was meant to be. It’s a good story. It aims to help others discover their own inner Susanna, and I occasionally hear from people who’ve been touched by it or inspired to find their own true selves.

But I missed an important part of the process. What do we do with our wimpier, lesser, more inhibited old selves when we decide to become who we might be? Our old selves (or mine, at least) are like termites in the basement, gnawing away quietly until the whole place collapses. My old self returned and, before each bite of my foundation, spat out phrases like:

“People will think you’re weird.”
“And what makes you an expert?”
And the perennial favourite, “You’re too old.”

Unfortunately, there is no bug spray for this pest. What’s needed is more like the Witness Protection Program, except that you get to keep your phone number and most of your family and friends.

The key technique is noticing who you are being by noticing how you are acting. You notice how old habits are keeping you stuck. You notice when you put yourself down. You notice when you tolerate interruptions, make excuses, postpone activities you want to do or check your e-mail before you’re out of your PJs.

Awareness is the first step to change, but it’s not enough. The decision to be the new self is made minute-to-minute. I love Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote: “I think that, somehow, we learn who we really are and then live with the decision.” Who we are is a decision, a choice we make. We control it.

We can create and select the new identity and lose the one that, while comfortable, is no longer safe. Moreover, that the new identity, which you choose as a grown-up, is likely to be who you really are. Much of the old you was your response to what others said and did around, with and to you.

Along with noticing and fending off visits by who you were, the second step is to welcome, nourish and nurture your new self. I blew it on both fronts, for months. I hid Susanna from my old colleagues. Few even know I contributed to a book about finding your power. “Too woo-woo,” said my old self. Today, Susanna took over. She put my chapter, her story, on the web and wrote this post. She’s real. She’s back. She’s me. I have chosen her.

Who have you chosen to be?

Cheers – Susanna



  1. There is no bug spray for this all-too-common parasite, true. But my go-to gal for this is Anne LaMott’s mason jar remedy. She suggests that we prepare a mason jar – the kind used for preserves – and put air holes in the lid. Now, gently, lovingly pick these critics up by the nape of their necks and slowly drop them into the jar. Screw on the lid. You might turn up the volume so that their insistent chatter sounds like so many parrots. Then turn it down, pat the jar and WALK AWAY.

  2. You have been tagged for The Personal Development List. (See my site for details), I would love for you to participate.

  3. I love that quote, “People become who they might be when they let go of who they are.” It really says a lot. And I can certainly relate. I’m still working on it myself. This post gives me some new insight and inspiration. Thanks Susanna. Please tell Donna I said hello. Thanks.

  4. Hey Susanna…OMG! I love your post. I’m going to sign up for more. My world is rockin’ since finding the Personal Development Blog and like minded people like you. Transformation Girlfriends…I love it…rock on!

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