2. Who Are You?
The more gadgets we have to help us save time, the more we try to do. As we rush from one task to the next, we tend to forget who we are. The demands and entertainments of our digital society carry us away from ourselves. In my work, I’ve helped thousands of people remember who they are. In our haste, we’ve mislaid the ability to hold a conversation with ourselves, with each other and with our Creator. Remembering who you are is essential to opening those conversations.
Think about your innate abilities. They are like breathing…intricate, complicated…
but we do it automatically without thinking about it. Listen to how you “breathe” and what you’re naturally designed to do. Few of us spend time considering what we do naturally. Very few focus on being right-handed . . .unless they lose their right hand. It slips under their radar. It’s a built-in ability. But those who are left-handed pay attention to it. They become aware of right-handed scissors and where they sit at a table. Being left-handed goes against the majority.
People tend to focus on what they don’t do naturally. Most are not aware of their own natural abilities, and so they don’t appreciate them. Instead, they often apologize for who they are. Becoming aware requires you to remember who you are and allows you to appreciate your own unique design. It also gives you an appreciation for the unique designs of others.
Awareness of differences in natural abilities promotes empathy rather than judging. When people assume that everyone has the same abilities they have, it can result in judgment and conflict. For example, Bob might be Global, someone who focuses on the big picture, and also Meticulous, someone who processes deliberately. A person without that combination of abilities might judge Bob as being lazy or disengaged from the present. Kathy, who is Specific, focusing on the present, and Finite, always acting with the end in mind, can be perceived as moody and vain by someone who doesn’t share her abilities. Now picture Bob and Kathy as a couple. It doesn’t take much to imagine the sparks flying in that house and how they would wear each other down trying to change each other.
While growing up, some of you had family and friends who judged you in the same way. A friend of mine is a performer. He has no problem performing in front of thousands, yet he is painfully shy about calling people on the phone. His family saw him as irresponsible and unsociable. Another friend has an incredible eye for antiques; her collection is remarkable. She knows all the details about what to collect and the value, but she can’t balance her checkbook. Her father regarded her as stupid. Another of my friends makes independent films. He is very creative, bright and witty, and he was shocked to learn that most people do not naturally see what he sees. Becoming aware of the unique differences in people had great value for him, he told me. It permitted him to have patience with others where he wasn’t naturally designed to be patient.
The reality is that no one has it all. Each of us is brilliant at some things and inept at others. That alone is cause for accurate humility. It is the reason we need one another and why we would do well to appreciate those who have gifts that differ from ours.
We can regard someone with a natural style different from ours as a predator to our innate abilities. They bring questions to mind: “Will he slow me down? Will she compromise my excellence? Will he undermine my impact?”
From there, we might establish a position of defensiveness or hostility. A much better approach is to celebrate or leverage the natural abilities of the other individual. Find out what they have to offer and tap into those areas.
Let me point out that a predator, as I use the term, is anything that preys on, destroys or corrodes the true nature of an ability. Like a predatory animal triggering basic fear within its prey, it freezes that ability. It is the big red button inside an attribute that once activated attempts to overwhelm the ability. It whispers and often realizes the worst fear of that ability.
Your natural abilities can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you use them. Think of your abilities as a knife. If you use it to cut your meat, you’re using it correctly. If you use it inappropriately and poke yourself in the eye or cut yourself, the knife causes you pain. You don’t want to use it anymore! If you have a sufficiently bad experience using one of your abilities, you tend to set that natural gift aside out of frustration or fear. This may cause you great internal conflict: you want to experience the rewards of using your gift properly; at the same time you don’t want the pain caused when you misuse that ability. Just because something comes naturally to us, that does not mean it will manage itself.Instead, it requires that we consciously choose to manage the ability. In a sense, we have to learn when to use the gas and when to brake.
Leaning into your abilities. We break through mediocrity toward success when we lean into what our natural profile compels us to do. Success and significance are established when we focus on our strengths. There is an old saying, “When you drill for water, don’t dig ten six-foot wells. Dig one sixty-foot well!” Life is much more meaningful when you consciously move toward mastery of your abilities. When you lean into your design, it creates confidence and competence.
Mirroring back your creation to your Creator. I was reviewing the profile of a man who has three Ph.D. degrees, and he commented to me, “When you talk about these abilities and brilliance, you are actually talking about potential brilliance, right?”
This is an important point and valid observation. These are your innate abilities. They are organic. If you don’t set up a greenhouse with the right environment, fertilizer, watering schedule and nutrients…everything needed to grow that organic ability…your natural internal design will not be moved toward brilliance. Your abilities are your potential brilliance. I have done profiles for people with dramatic abilities which they have not chosen to harness, leverage, celebrate, champion or cultivate. They are burying their talents and gifts in the ground.
Let me repeat something I said at the beginning. It is a vital point. Becoming self-aware is not necessarily useful in itself. Self-awareness has to be a pressure point. It must stimulate us to move inside the life we are compelled to live. I want this book to make you aware and provoke you to move, to act and to experience.
We must move forward, have experiences to celebrate and to inventory as either substantive milestones or islands of remembrance that reinforce the fact we are alive.
What I don’t wish to do is to help you create an abstract universe of self-discovery. I do want you to become aware of who you are in terms of your innate design and to ultimately mirror back your creation to your Creator. You accomplish this through movement, appreciation and obedience to who you are designed to be. Ironically, many people I profile shake their fists at the heavens looking for a manufacturer’s rebate. Your Creator doesn’t make mistakes!
The key is to enthusiastically pursue your life desires, the desires of your heart. That movement is where you’re meant to find yourself. Homemaker, artist, teacher, or industry leader…whatever your pursuit, it is irrelevant as long as you are doing what you were put on this planet to do. I want self-awareness to be the personal, positive pressure point that gets you to move toward the success and significance you’ve been created for.
Learning to thrive. It’s about more than just surviving. No matter how difficult your current circumstances, you can wiggle forward. At my church in Southern California one Sunday, a petite teenager stood up behind the massive pulpit to share her story with us. She was seventeen and had emancipated herself two years earlier from her addicted, abusive mother. She had never met her father. Despite the adversity, the girl had persevered with high school. Because a kind couple opened their home to her, she had gained some measure of stability in her life. She became an expert marksman in school, and the Army gave her a scholarship to attend Officer’s Training. I was so moved by her story that I offered to profile her. It turned out I was the one who was blessed when I consulted with her. She was realistic about her history and had chosen not to become a victim of it. Instead, her adversity fueled her to become focused, move forward, and to celebrate her achievements. She had great expectations for her life. Even if she does not hit her targets with 100% accuracy, I am certain that significance and thriving are assured for her.
Abuse of abilities. I am aware that, as a family, we Buffinis are unusual. My brothers and I impact thousands of people across the country. We are truly blessed to be doing what we are doing. Maybe because we are “the Osmonds of personal development,” we attract many people who are hungry for what we have as a family. This was brought home for me when a woman who was signing up for personal coaching said, “Here are my adoption papers into the Buffini family.”
Perhaps our old-world perspective is part of it, but I believe people see us as an effective family, mysteriously working well together…and for many it points up a lack in their own lives. Unfortunately, a great number of people grew up in families that did not champion them, that did not encourage them to use their natural abilities. I’ve talked to many whose families either ignored what they had to offer or wanted them to change somehow. As adults, we can continue to abuse our natural abilities through neglect or embarrassment, maybe because we are not championed to use them. We may also abuse them by using only those abilities we are celebrated for and ignoring or neglecting the others. The result is that we become caricatures of our true selves.
Environment is important. Fear; family, social and institutional taboos; missed opportunities; shut-down: we have all experienced these at some point. When we find ourselves in an environment too harsh for our natural abilities to thrive, then we are like orchids in the desert. Orchids require a greenhouse with just the right soil, fertilizer, light, temperature and humidity. Our life circumstances can break the greenhouse glass and let in cold, dry air that robs us of what is essential to us.
I help my clients create an environment for their humanity by helping them become aware of their own organic abilities and what they need to perform optimally. The proper environment lets you use your abilities to the fullest, so you can move towards a thriving, significant life.
Avoiding use of an ability or style. When it comes to self, many of us tend to react punitively to our life circumstances. Our internal dialogue might be, “I’m in debt, so I’ll stop having fun.” or “I made some mistakes years ago, and I won’t forgive myself.”
One of my clients has a highly competitive ability in his profile. Years ago, he was an Olympic hopeful, but he had to pass up the opportunity to be on the team. He had to work to support his mother and sister, and he had no time to train. He succumbed to loss and bitterness and went on for the next eleven years, suppressing his desire to compete in his chosen sport. His enthusiasm for life suffered. His “I could have been a contender” attitude wore thin on those around him, and he withdrew from family and friends. I worked on helping him to forgive himself and to let go of the past. I directed his attention into the precious present and onto how he could re-awaken his competitive abilities and use them to move toward thriving. Today, he coaches a college athletic team, and he is being celebrated for using his tenure, expertise and innate abilities. He has experienced exponential growth in other areas and has reclaimed his life.
It’s never too late to grow into who you are. However, because of fatigue, hopelessness or bitterness, some people give themselves over to an apathetic, toxic existence. I recall a Florida couple who were very wealthy. They’d been together for over forty years. To describe them as miserable would be polite. They could have lived in luxury for the rest of their lives without making a dent in their fortune. The tragedy was that they lived as a paralyzed couple, anxious and fretful about today and terrified about tomorrow. Their four adult children tried everything to enliven them, but to no avail. It was clear to me that these otherwise smart people had chosen to hold life at arm’s length. They’d decided to distrust anything out of their known world. In a sense, they volunteered to be stranded on an island of NO surrounded by a sea of YESes.
Their children were their world. The children each married very different persons, but ironically their spouses have one characteristic in common: they love to live, be it traveling the world or experiencing the best life has to offer. The four children have little interaction with their parents because their joy is stolen if they’re around their parents for long. To escape that, they’ve each moved thousands of miles away. And this rich couple with their poor lives had their world become more toxic, undermined and atrophied. As you can imagine, they didn’t enjoy their chats with me. I reminded them that they had all the resources they could possibly need and abilities that had atrophied because they buried them for years. I was the ambassador of possibilities and YESes, and I represented a threat to their world. Even though they heard the truth about themselves, they wouldn’t act on the insights I shared. The living dead are intolerable to those who love life, so I left them to the consequences of their decision. I am grateful to have met them because they are a reminder to live life with vigilance to your own condition. Irrespective of their circumstances, everyone has an opportunity to wiggle forward in life. Those who do not seize the opportunity do themselves disservice and harm.
Overuse of an ability or style. There is a decidedly negative effect if you overuse one ability at the expense of your other natural abilities. Often, those people who are celebrated for being quick-witted and funny are unfulfilled because they are only celebrated for those abilities. They feel a vacuum of significance, and this may precipitate self-destructive behavior. If we’re to establish a balanced or whole-view approach to significance in the major areas of life, we need to manage, cultivate, and nurture the time, resources and energy required to realize our dreams, visions and aspirations.
Using your abilities is as natural as breathing, but managing them requires far more finesse. I have an attribute I share with a good friend of mine I’ll call Tony: it is to refine and improve people, organizations and things. In the right circumstances, this ability is extremely valuable, insightful and appreciated. In the wrong circumstances, it can be destructive. Tony’s wife is athletic and their children are gifted athletes. Tony delights in the athletic excellence of his children…so much that his Refiner attribute is prompted to improve their natural abilities. He can easily slip from insightful coach to tyrannical father. Awareness of this zealous overuse of his natural gift can make all the difference between being remembered as a champion by his kids or as a negative nurturer. Remember, when unmanaged, our greatest gifts are our greatest disabilities.
Awareness that people don’t change. This is where I differ with those in the self-improvement community. We do not change fundamentally. The truth about you remains consistent whether you are 5, 25 or 55 years old. We have a choice to become a better version or a bent-and-broken version of our current self. I strongly disagree with the “blank-slate” philosophy. I am concerned that we get off to a bad start if we try to ignore or reinvent our core nature. That’s wishing ourselves away. When it comes to assessing who we are, it’s not realistic to begin the process by wishing away any part of ourselves or our nurture. If you’re an orchid in the desert, wishing to be a cactus is futile.
We talk about opposites attracting. I believe that individuals are drawn to the strengths they see in another person, the abilities they themselves do not innately possess. The odd thing is that once they get into a partnership or committed relationship they then try to change the other person. It never ceases to amaze me when I see the tenacity and determination of such couples to wear each other down. Each is bent to get their partner to embrace their agenda and see things their way.
One of the great fallacies in relationships is that we think we can change the other person. We wrongly believe that if we just keep working at it, we can get the other person to change by wearing them down. I met a couple who’d been married 44 years and they were still trying to change each other! The years of wasted energy, frustration and hopelessness are inconsequential to them because wearing their partner down takes precedence. Relationships require perspective, strategy and vulnerability. They also require knowing who you are and finding out with whom you are in a relationship.
And here’s the revelation I share with folks across the country: PEOPLE DON’T CHANGE. They can become a better version of who they are or a bent-and-broken version of who they are. When individuals are in survival mode, we often find that they have transformed into the bent-and-broken version. When people remember who they are and lean into their abilities, it is usually because they have leveraged their innate gifts to highest and best use in their environment.
Unused abilities don’t die. They languish in a kind of hell. Again, everybody has an internal monologue. Think of your subconscious as a supercomputer without a sense of humor. It processes all day and dreams all night. If some of your innate abilities are not activated, they report their pain to your subconscious every day of every week of every month of every year. The ability doesn’t die. It withers; it groans; it is miserable and oppressed. It incubates this hunger that we project onto others. We quietly hope that someone will rescue us from that natural longing or unused ability inside us. In that hope, we unconsciously set up our relationships to disappoint us, hurt us and wound us.
I tell my clients, “Think of your abilities as the white Arabian stallions in Ben Hur. They’re magnificent, intense, glorious. But they have to be deftly managed so that they can make the corners in life’s race. At other times, joyously, the reins can be let go to permit the stallions to run free. Also, the horses must be teamed in the right order and actively moving in the same direction; not one horse taking the rest of the team off-course.”
Taking your innate abilities from the subconscious to the conscious is the beginning of managing your abilities. The next step is learning how to identify and inventory your innate abilities.