Maximizing and surviving who you are!

You can be your worst enemy and not know it. Your attitude and feelings can sabotage your ability to succeed. A person can’t properly and successfully relate to other people, especially outside their own family, if they don’t truly understand who other people are. The first step in this process is to really know who you are and how you fit into society. During the heat of a disagreement, we sometimes hear one person say to another; “Who do you think you are, anyway?”

This common expression accurately implies the condition that is the point of this discussion. Following the achievement of ‘knowing who you are’ is the realization and appreciation of other people, which is the key to success. Of course, this understanding is incremental and progressive. Once we get on this path, we will constantly grow in our wisdom and understanding. This is certainly true of me at 93 years old, as I have significantly changed in just the past 4 or 5 years. In fact, I am appalled by some of my behavior and expressions in times past.

On first thought, a person would logically say: Of course, I absolutely know who I am. I know my name, my occupation, my location, my nationality – everything. These are all superficial identities. Your important identity is the person that you are inside - underneath the veneer of civilization that everyone must wear to be acceptable in our society.

We have a popular myth, an urban legend if you like, that says that one person’s opinion is just as good as another person's opinion. If this were true, everyone would achieve the same level of success, wouldn’t they? (I am speaking of people who are otherwise approximately equal in the resources of wealth, health, physical ability and opportunity.) As they say, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” and the proof of the equality of peoples’ (values, characteristics, properties, beliefs, attributes, strengths, weaknesses, etc.) would be measured by the ubiquitous term, ‘success’. Even the word ‘success’ has no certain and specific meaning except to generally imply that one is happy, wealthy, popular, famous, and independent etc. - or at least some of these attributes.

One way to find out ‘who you are’ as opposed to who you think you are is to talk to family and friends. This kind of conversation must be tactfully and artfully done and the selection of people is important too. The setting must be right and the subject appropriately introduced.

I had a certain conception of ‘who I was’ for half of my life until I was with a group of friends as we talked about this concept. I identified myself as being a certain kind of person, and my friends, doing the best part of what true friendship is about, as one voice corrected my notion. At first, I was dismayed, actually nearly devastated. Later, as the truth ‘grew on me’ I came to know that my friends were right and I had been living with a delusion all of my life. The change that this conversation brought into my life is significant and I have been a different person ever since.

A gross mistake is to identify yourself according to a parents ambition, such as; “You should study law as our whole family are lawyers.” I worked for a man who rebelled against his famous industrialist family. They pressed him to follow a career in the family business. He rebelled, left the country and became a ‘Golden Gloves’ boxer until he could sort out his life according to who he was. Then, he became ‘rich and famous’ in a different field.

It is a mistake to set your life’s ambition before you develop into the adult you are to be. From where I am in this continuum called life, I see that this process never stops and we are really never done changing and ‘becoming’. However, we must be sufficiently developed so the choices we make are compatible with the person that we become. Of course, we have no way of knowing how we shall mature, especially when we are very young, so, in order to avoid a gross mistake, we should make interim decisions that will carry us through our immediate future and into our future ‘becoming’ without the conflict of commitment. I have a friend who was a gifted student in school. He was advanced rapidly through the grades and entered college at 17 as an engineering student. He worked in industry for a while and quit to go back to college and study a specialized field in medicine. His comment was; “What business did a 17 year old kid have in deciding what a grown man was to do for his lifetime?"

There are perversions caused by several influences in a person’s life that will grossly distort the conception of ‘who I am’ such as a Madrasah that deliberately teaches a false concept of who a person is. Of course, we are talking about average people and situations.

‘Knowing who you are’ is the result of a slow that begins at birth or maybe even before. We know the attributes of ‘the terrible twos’ as children assert themselves against their parents’ wishes and must learn ‘the hard way’. (I think that my favorite age for a child is 8 years. They have grown out of their infancy and they have not yet entered into the storms of adolescence.)

Eventually, the process of discovering who we are takes us to the realization that we are just very ‘ordinary’ after all. We realize that the high school sports letters and bowling trophies, while they were very ‘fun’ to receive, really don’t amount to making us ‘special’ in any sense. The same is true of a college degree in a very important way.

“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” This was Polonius's last piece of advice to his son, Laertes’ in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Bobbie Burns, the famous Scottish poet, wrote’
“O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!”
The idea that we need to know who we are has been around for a long time, hasn’t it? This is part of ‘the wisdom of mankind’.

I read an account of a farmer who married a wife, took her home and raped her. Can you imagine the poverty of that marriage and the unfulfilled needs of the wife as she endured a loveless marriage? At one time, my father was a preacher, serving a small country church. One day, a local farmer asked my father if he would conduct a funeral service for his wife. My father asked how it happened. The farmer said that he was out working the fields and he came into the house to get a drink of water. He saw that his wife was in great distress and he thought that she was dying. He went out and finished his work in the field, and when he came back later, sure enough, his wife was dead. My father asked the farmer if he would like him to pray. The farmer said that if he wanted to pray, go ahead. It didn’t make any difference to him. Can you imagine the emotional poverty of these relationships?

Most people are familiar with computers enough to relate to the following analogy; we can consider our intellectual self in terms of a computer program. The first computer programs were rudimentary, performing only relatively simple tasks. Consider the development of a 3 year old child. They see something and they want it so they take it. There is no part of their developing ‘computer program’ that can accept and process the implications of ownership, is there? The parent telling the child that it is not theirs, so put it back is not a recognized. Their ‘program’ does what computer programs do. It has no ability to accept and process the input so it rejects it. Regardless of how long we live, this process is never evolved as far as it can be developed. This is why the axiom is true, “the wisdom of mankind is greater than the wisdom of any man’.

A great aid to understanding and processing the guest for learning ‘who you are’ is to write an ‘I am’ statement and a ‘mission’ statement. This can be a very challenging project as the entries will be in a constant state of revision as your understanding increases. The purpose of the ‘I am’ statement is to reveal to yourself who you truly are as you discover that you are not who you thought yourself to be. The mission statement will translate your ‘I am’ statement into how this truth relates to your involvement with other people. ‘Maximizing life’, the theme of this book, is facilitated by growing in the wisdom that this learning process provides.

A note about what I have discovered about myself; I have learned that I am a very ‘ordinary’ person who has lived long enough to acquire a degree of wisdom. I know, because I am ‘ordinary’, that I can be in error in some of my understanding. If and when I recognize these errors, I will have advanced another degree in my acquisition of wisdom. I know that these things are true because this is an inescapable and universal property of ‘people’. ‘The wisdom of mankind is greater than the wisdom of any man.’

An important tool that we acquire on this path to self discovery is ‘perception’. This quality is largely intuitive and is the result of past experiences, reading body language, and other clues that enable us to perceive according to our maturity level. Perception is a powerful mechanism that we learn to use in dealing with other people. Small children have underdeveloped perception so they are easily victimized by a strange man who is ‘looking for his lost puppy.’ Young girls can be victimized by an aggressive lover who tells her all sorts of ‘sweet things’. Adults can also be victimized by clever talk that appeals to their needs, pride, or vanity.

As I went shopping with my children when they were young, I would pick out a person in a crowd and ask my child to tell me what they ‘saw’ in them. Are they happy, healthy, confident, etc? I hope that it was a good learning experience for them.

I was in the checkout line of a supermarket when a very large woman attacked a cute and petite clerk in the next aisle. ‘Out of the blue’ she berated the clerk, making charges such as: “I know what you are thinking. You think that I am just a big XXXXX”, and so on.

This outbreak lasted for two or three minutes, leaving the clerk in tears. I went over to the clerk and told her that the episode was not at all about her and she had done absolutely nothing wrong. I explained to her that her youthful beauty raised such a reaction in the woman when she compared herself to you that she couldn’t restrain herself from the violent reaction. I told her that she should consider the event to be a compliment to her and not a judgment against her. I left her smiling.

Several observations can be drawn from this episode, can’t they? ‘Reading’ people is an acquired skill that is aided by first, knowing who you are so that you can, in turn, ‘know’ who other people are, even strangers. Knowing who other people are is an essential attribute to success. Knowing who you are and growing in wisdom is a progressive accomplishment that never ends as long as we live. Young people are not yet ‘wise’ and maybe some older people have acquired a measure of wisdom.

In this context, one of the most fortunate things that can happen to people is to have many troubles that force them to learn. As a corollary, perhaps the cruelest thing that parents can do to their children is to ‘pave the way’ ahead of them by paying for their college and providing relief for other challenges that are the learning experiences that build the understanding of who they are. In my experience, the most undeveloped people are those who live in the same house with their mother and father, they never marry or go to college, they have never served in the armed forces and all they know is their own back yard. The most successful people that I know are those who have overcome daunting challenges.

Wisdom is not attainable until you have developed enough perception to acquire it. Otherwise, like a rebellious teenager, you know all that you can ‘hold’ - like the toddler who is not able to understand ownership rights until they ‘grow up’ more. Wisdom may be gotten in two ways. One is by learning from experiences, as in; “That hurt! I will never do THAT again.” The other way is to sit at the feet of a guru that you respect and trust, but it takes an amount of wisdom to be able to recognize a wise person.

Many years ago, I took my automobile to Sears to have the tires replaced. For some reason that I don’t remember, I fell into a conversation with the mechanic who was going to change the tires. He said to me; “As your mechanic…” And then he went into a dissertation on how products are designed. He told about how ‘they’ try a lot of things and if something works, they use it. I told him that he should be careful saying such things because he never knows who he is talking to. (He must have remembered stories about how Thomas Edison invented the light bulb with his many experiments and failures.) By this time, I had 17 years of experience in product design, and I knew that the process was not ‘willy-nilly’ trial and error but carefully designed programs using the latest materials, processes and technology. His ‘as your mechanic’ introduction and his following dissertation showed that he had an unrealistic need to represent himself falsely. It was obvious that he felt inferior and he ‘didn’t know who he was. Everyone is somewhere along a development curve and there is absolutely nothing wrong with changing tires for a living.

Just last week, I had a phone call from a friend who lives out of state and was visiting for a week. She told me of how her sister had a stroke that completely changed her personality. Her sister was mean whereas she was formerly a very loving person. She said that her sister’s condition was very painful to her and she asked me what she could do about the situation so she wouldn’t be so hurt over her sister’s expressions toward her. I told her that the problem was that she, (my friend), ‘didn’t know who she was’ in her relationship with her sister. I asked her if she would argue with a drunk. She said that she would not. I told her that she must re-identify her sister according to her impairment. Her sister is irrational due to her condition so she must put her in a category that identifies her as such. Instead of being ‘hurt’ by an irresponsible person, she should, instead, re identify her sister and be happy when her sister is lucid. This action changes the chemistry of the relationship and places my friend in control of her own resources. This has nothing to do about if she loves or takes care of her sister and everything to do about managing herself in the situation. We later had dinner together and she said that she was very grateful for my counsel.

Obviously, what I told my friend is ‘conventional wisdom’. What I told her to do is to take the emotional position that must be taken by nurses, law enforcement officers, and others who deal with irrational people in their professions. Still, in the case of my friend, 'she couldn’t see the forest for the trees.' This kind of problem can happen to anyone, especially when strong emotions are involved.

The solution to such problems is to step back and see ‘who you are’. For many/most people, this will be a new but very profitable experience. The basic purpose of this book is to encourage people to discover who they really are so their world of people can ‘fall into place’ and be best managed according to their resources. People are very different from each other, aren’t they? People lie somewhere between being a Mother Teresa who lived for others and sports figures that waste their resources on themselves. (Such extremes can be ‘good’), depending upon how you use your resources. Regardless of ‘who you are’ on this continuum, learning who you are and, subsequently, who other people are, is a critical understanding to gain if you are to be ‘successful’. Mother Teresa ‘worked’ the system by understanding other people in order to achieve her purposes. She was able to get contributions from reluctant businesses by using skills that resulted from knowing who she was and who other people were. In order to do this, she first had to know ‘who’ she was. Multi-million dollar sports figures have so much money that they can buy ‘anything’, so they ‘play by their own rules’. I suppose that it is a good thing that the very rich are able to spend their money for expensive yachts and air planes as it puts their money back into circulation.

However, ordinary people who are striving to be ‘successful’ must ‘work the system’ by understanding how to have the support of ‘the people’. In order to do that, you must understand ‘the system’ and ‘people’. To do this, you must understand who you are and how ‘what you are’ as relates to what people expect and require of you in order to get their support.

I constantly see people who are struggling to ‘get ahead’, all the while carrying burdens of attitudes, beliefs, and prejudices (immaturities) that severely limit their ability to succeed. This book is intended to help develop paths of understanding in more applications and detail. The often repeated theme of this book is; it is all about knowing who you are so you can understand who other people are. It is ‘other people’, who will recognize you and pave the way for your advancement, isn’t it?

I hear people say; “But there has to be an easier way – What if I win the lottery” I have known people who ‘religiously’ play the lottery because; “Somebody has to win. Why can’t it be me? Depending upon which particular lottery you play, your chance of being killed by lightning is between 5 and 50 times more likely than your chances of winning a lottery.

If you want to have a ‘sure thing’, the best chance you have for economic success is to earn it by ‘playing the game’. This means entering the hard work of ‘qualifying’ for success by learning who you are first and then learning who other people are. This is a fairly predictable process. The more you do things right, the greater will be your success. “The sky’s the limit.” Another tremendous benefit from ‘doing it the hard way’ is the appreciation you develop for your success because you know how much it cost you to achieve it. You are not inclined to ‘party’ your wealth away by ‘showing off’’ to your friends with extravagances such as expensive houses and cars. Such people are usually much worse of in 5 years that if they hadn’t won because they are now deep indebt that they can’t pay off.

I have talked to several people about this and I find that there is a common response to this challenge; “I will do it anyway. Someone will win, and it might as well be me.” There seems to be a certain maturity level that must be reached before the truth ‘dawns’ on a person. They realize that the odds are carefully calculated against them to ever win the millions. The same kinds of odds are against winning other scams such as a ‘chain letter’ that used to be very popular, perhaps, 40 years ago. What are the chances of ‘making it’ as a football superstar? Each year there are about 50,000 active college football players. Less that 3 % of them make it to the NFL. What are my chances of becoming rich and famous rock star?

Every neighborhood has its high school rock band. If you divide the number of rock star ‘wanabe’s by the number of rock stars, you will have a bigger number that you would want to bet on, wouldn’t you? The problem with this attitude is that we hear only about the winners and not about the many thousands of those who tried and didn’t make it. The best way to achieve ‘success’ in your life, is to ‘play it straight’ and earn it.

It becomes apparent that there is no ‘standard’ way to succeed. As I say in the introduction; people are not at all ’standard’ as we all are particular ‘raw materials’ that have been processed by our unique life experiences. Therefore; there is no ‘standard’ process or standard result. What is ‘standard’ is the need to acquire a level of maturity to overcome our notions of being ‘special’. This implies that the wide variations in people is the norm and is ‘standard’ regarding the requirements for achieving ‘success’. What is ‘standard’ is maturity sufficient to allow a person to realize the universal truth; people need to learn who they are if they are to be successful.

Some of the areas that need to be addressed are discussed in the following chapters of this book.

Written by guest author,
Bob Davis!


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