There’s one simple question that, if you embrace it whole-heartedly, could be the most important question of your life.
It’ll be the game-changer that will elevate your marriage or relationships. It’ll be the question that elevates your business. It can inspire more efficient productivity and focus. It’ll be the question that leads you to greater happiness.
It’s this: In this situation, who do I want to be?
I began relentlessly asking myself this question about six years ago. If I was about to pop off a snippy comeback when I was irritated with my husband, I’d stop. Breathe. “Okay, Kate. In this situation, who do you want to be?”
When I was at a crossroads in my business, feeling the pinch of a shrinking bank account and not knowing what to do, or trying to figure out my next marketing approach, or being asked to endorse someone’s offering in a “you-scratch-my-back” kind of a deal that would feel inauthentic and crappy, I’d stop. Breathe. “In this situation, who do I want to be?”
Trying to decide which project to focus my time on? Okay, then–keep it simple, no need to go bust out a new day planner and try to quadrant my time down to the hour–who do I want to be?
The question is powerful because another question is embedded within it. To answer the question of who you want to be means immediately asking another powerful question: “What will I choose?”
The truth is that we’re all already asking these two questions, constantly–but many of us are asking and answering while on auto-pilot. It’s when you’re not stopping to question the capital-S “Stories,” the narratives/beliefs/assumptions behind your answers that you start living life on default.
When you’re not conscious about the process, asking “Who do I want to be, and what will I choose?” looks something like:
I WANT TO BE RIGHT in this argument–so take that!
I want to feel powerful over this other person (by putting her down as fat).
I want to be someone who feels less stress…so I’ll have another drink, thanks.
These little choices, over time, add up. Life will hand you the realization that choosing to be right all of the time can lead to divorce; choosing to feel powerful by putting others down can lead to isolation; choosing to use substances to alleviate stress can create a dependency issue.
There’s another layer to all of this, and it’s gaining presence about how you ended up…right here.
Consider any situation in your life that you’re less-than-thrilled with. There were dozens, maybe hundreds of times that you would have unconsciously asked yourself, “Who do I want to be?” followed by “And what will I choose?”
What do you think your answers were, in those moments?
If it’s tough to figure this out for yourself, consider the other examples I’ve offered up and see what you can extrapolate to your own unique life story.
Someone with a relationship on the brink of collapse has asked herself, dozens of times in any argument, “Who do I want to be?” In the midst of those arguments, how might she have been answering that question? What might she have been choosing, that lead to a relationship that was less connected?
Someone who has been putting others down based on appearance who then feels lonely and isolated has been making decisions about who she wants to be, for awhile. What has she been prioritizing as important? What has she been devaluing?
Someone with a dependency issue has been making choices about how she wants to feel and the easiest way to access that, for some time. How she has answered “Who do I want to be?” potentially fuels the addiction: I want to be relaxed; I want to feel more confident with some liquid courage; I want to be the life of the party; I only feel safe to fully come out as myself when I’m high (what she’s wanting is to be herself).
Yes, there are other factors–life circumstances, biochemical factors, traumatic experiences, the person you were in a relationship wasn’t willing to do the work–but we typically can’t control those.
Try as the human race might, no one escapes life without some bruising, whether it’s from being born into poverty or being discriminated against, having a serious disease, encountering abuse, or getting involved with someone who isn’t willing to help repair a relationship.
Given that you can’t change what has happened, and you can’t correct all of life’s unfairnesses in an instant, and you can’t control other people, what are the powerful options?
The powerful options lie in how you’ll answer this question: “Who do I want to be?”
Get conscious about that question, and every decision gets easier, every hour of your life becomes self-defining, every interaction with another human being filled with kindness. Get conscious about that question, and it won’t be money or success that defines your happiness, it’ll be you being proud of you that creates your joy.
I did business with someone to the tune of many, many thousands of dollars. Long story short? They didn’t deliver on what they sold me on, and after I spoke up about that, they took to social media to be passive-aggressive about it.
I was hurt. I was pissed.
Months later, I noticed that whenever I thought of the person or situation, I felt hurt and pissed all over, again. So I decided to take my own medicine, and do something (courageous) about it: I’d see where I could take radical responsibility and completely own my part, and release anything that I knew was not mine. I started by asking myself, “Where were the red flags that I ignored?”
And pretty quickly, I felt…stupid.
I felt stupid because prior to hiring, I’d known about multiple integrity issues: gossiping and divulging personal information about employees, close friends, and other clients.
I felt stupid because I knew of people who had worked with the person, but hadn’t elected to re-hire, and I’d never investigated why.
I felt stupid because mid-way through the project I knew that the pace wasn’t really working, and had brought this up, but had decided to believe them when they said, “No, no, this is all normal, don’t worry.” Even though everything in me said, “This doesn’t feel right,” I subverted my own intuition.
I knew all of that, yet continued on with the hiring and then the submitting of payments.
Who had made the choice to hire someone who had shown these issues? Me. Who had elected to continue submitting payments to someone even when I wasn’t happy with the work? Me.
That’s…kind of stupid.
Now, here’s the thing: what’s not mine is the lack of integrity. What’s not mine is the inability to deliver on the results they were selling.
When you choose to take radical responsibility, you acknowledge what’s not yours–but ultimately, you keep the focus on what is yours. Why? Because that’s where you’ll find peace (after feeling distinctly uncomfortable)
Radical Responsibility is Courageous
That’s why taking radical responsibility is courageous: you might see some things that are hard to see about yourself, and feel the discomfort of that. When I asked myself the simple question, “What are the red flags that I ignored?” the evidence that this hadn’t been a good idea was overwhelming. I had been making certifiably stupid choices, starting with the fact that things hadn’t felt right in my body, and I’d ignored that fact.
It’s hard to feel stupid.
So…I decided to write a declaration that would lead to my own freedom. At the top of the page, I wrote in all capital letters: “READ UNTIL IT NO LONGER BOTHERS ME.” Then I wrote down all of the things I had known prior to hiring that would have indicated it was a bad idea, and all of the choices that I had made that had co-created the situation, that were totally my responsibility.
To release the hurt and resentment that I felt about the situation, I was willing to read this declaration out loud for as long as it took, even if it was to the end of time.
Really, though? It only took a week.
Radical Responsibility Leads to Peace
We aren’t really ever hurt by others, or mad at what they did. We’re pissed off at ourselves. Again and again, it usually all boils down to subverting our own intuition.
In this case, I knew better–in my body–but didn’t treat that evidence as “enough.” I kept looking for logical justifications for why the situation wasn’t right. And, I guess, because I was looking for evidence, my evidence that this situation was royally screwed up showed up in a pissy social media post aimed right at my head.
“That’s the best gift they ever gave me,” I’d later tell a friend about the situation, “Because it was so over-the-top unkind, I became clear in an instant that I was walking away.”
Getting clear on why I’d walked into that mess in the first place was also important. When we don’t take time to evaluate why we did what we did, and when we don’t create space for releasing it, all of that muck just sits around as background noise, siphoning energy.
Taking radical responsibility is courageous because it pushes you to look at the things that are hard to look at. But once you’ve moved through that, it brings peace; the peace of knowing that it all happened how it did, you owned your part, and now you’re ready to move on.