The Most Difficult Person to Get to Know

Each day we come into contact with many different people. We start with those with whom we live and before too many hours of the day have passed we have crossed paths with friends, co-workers, store clerks, etc. These people may or may not be regular fixtures and regardless of their status in our life—how well do we know the people with whom we regularly interact? If you are like many people, the answer will be not very well.

Why do we resist getting to know the people around us? It is because we have failed to get to know the most important person in our life—ourself. If we do not know who we are, how capable are we of connecting with those around us? Almost without exception, my coaching clients are in search of greater connection with the individuals in their lives, from their employees and co-workers to family, friends and community. People understand that if they want satisfaction in their work and life it is important to have healthy relationships with those with whom they interact and yet, so few people entertain the idea that until they know themselves they are not fully capable of developing meaningful connections.

Why do we resist getting to know ourselves? We keep from unearthing our true qualities because we fear that “who we really are” is not good enough, smart enough, talented enough, etc. The irony is that the exact opposite is true—each person is uniquely qualified to do something in the world no one else can do and each of us represents an important piece of the puzzle that makes our world work. Based on my 20 years experience there are three main hurdles that keep people from embarking on the path to self-understanding:

  • Fear of what they will find: As a child, everyone dreamed of what they could do in the world, that is before someone told them that what they aspired to do wasn’t possible. As children our true nature is most evident and unsoiled by the “real world” and its external expectations of how to “achieve” the natural state of happiness. Children know what makes them happy and until they are told to do otherwise, they pursue it. Adults find reflection on who they are difficult because coming face-to-face with the child that dreamed big can be a very disconcerting meeting.
  • Fear of what they won’t find: After being encouraged to leave behind childhood “fantasies,” most people begin to build a persona of the person that they believe they “should” be, i.e., intelligent, hard-working, successful, charismatic, etc. When one begins to honestly look at themselves, letting go of who they aren’t is as important as understanding who they are. It can be frightening to admit that the carefully crafted façade bears little resemblance to the real person underneath and it can be one of the liberating moments of one’s life.
  • Fear of what it will mean for their life: Too many falsely believe that if someone embarks on the process to understand their true nature and lets go of those things they thought they should be, then the result is the complete breakdown of everything in their life. In other words, if lives are built on the alter of success, achievement and material acquisitions then letting go of that story and building a life based on one’s natural talents and happiness means everything in their life must also change. While that is certainly possible, it doesn’t mean that someone is relegated to moving to a remote island—what it means is that they can infuse what is already there with joy and make future decisions based on what truly matters to them.

Once people give themselves of the gift of knowing who they are, new worlds of possibility open up–creativity, lightness, energy and connection abound. By being comfortable in one’s own skin it becomes easier to authentically reach out to those in their life because the fears have dissipated. Fear is the greatest barrier to everything we want in our lives—including our own happiness.

By taking the first step in addressing the fears around knowing yourself, you are Living the Leadership Choice by setting a shining example of what a fearless and happy life looks like within the world you have already created.

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Avatar photo Bill Brantley

Good post! I believe another barrier in getting to know ourselves is that we assume we know how others perceive us instead of actually learning how people really perceive us. It is amazing how people are easily ready to believe the worst about themselves.

Kathleen Schafer

Bill–thank you. I agree that too often we assume we know what another is thinking or feeling and often our thoughts are much worse than the reality. By understanding ourselves we become comfortable with who we are and are not reliant on the approval of others to feel good about ourselves. Once we establish our core, we are able to reach out to others and often find that they are not feeling good about themselves! By taking that first step, we provide the way forward for everyone–the sign a of a good leader!