Autumn: Looking Inward
It’s fall season! The leaves are changing colors. Daylight is getting shorter, and nights are getting colder. The leaves linger on the branches as they change, and soon they will let go. They will eventually fall and dance their way to the ground. Streets will be blanketed with tones of warmth. Autumn is magical! It’s winter squash time in all its splendor. Pumpkin patches abound and pumpkin carving is happening. And while the leaves keep falling throughout this season—the spectacle of autumn invites us to look inward.
Consider the difference between these two questions: Who do I think I am? And, who am I really? Without much hesitation, most of us would think we are someone like this:
- I am [insert profession or job description]
- I am [insert age, race(?), nationality]
- I am [insert personality labels]
- I am [insert external labels, instrumental motives]
But the answer to the second question is way more subtle. Who am I really? This question is relevant because what you believe about yourself shapes how you perceive the world and how you approach life. A good starting point would be to see inward. What about you is not the latest trend (where you work or what you wear) or the boxes you fit into?
- I am [insert your hopes, dreams, desires]
- I am [insert core values]
- I am [insert character traits]
- I am [insert internal drivers and motives]
In Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she explains about two different mindsets that relate to how we perceive ourselves. In the fixed-mindset, we often think that who we are is our external labels. This happens when we grow up labeling ourselves by the grades we get (smart, not smart), and by the university we attend (private, public). As adults, our labels shift based on how much we get paid or who we work for (successful, not successful). In contrast, when we are being growth-minded, we believe that what we do is not necessarily who we are. Since we are not driven externally, and our self-worth does not depend on how well we perform—we do not feel the need to label, as if we were brands. In time and with effort, we can switch from a world of labels and judgment to a world of growth and help.
To the degree that we uncover who we really are, we begin to notice our inner drives. It may be our desire to help, to have a powerful impact, to love, or to feel more joyful. When we look inward, we can clarify what we value, assume responsibility, and feel optimistic about the future. We become a “definite optimist” as Peter Thiel describes in his brilliant book Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. “To a definite optimist, the future will be better than the present if he plans and works to make it better.” On the contrary, the indefinite pessimist “looks out onto a bleak future, but he has no idea what to do about it”. Perhaps our future expectations depend on whether we are being mindful in who we really are, or whether we’re being ever distracted and anxious about who we think we are in fixed-mindset fashion.
Fortunately, it’s fall and the weather is inviting us to look inward! Consider that what you (and others) think you are—is not you. The world is not what we think it is, it is the world itself. What we think today about ourselves may not necessarily be what we think tomorrow. Our thoughts are subject to our mood, the environment, and our culture. But who we really are is powerfully grounded in our being and our capacity to change. This distinction helps us to challenge our assumptions (the fixed-mindset) and take charge of our future (like a definite optimist). When we wake up to see who we really are, we are able to do work more freely, authentically, and creatively!
So the colorful leaves fall and they nourish the soil, and you gently drop the external need to validate yourself. We know that who we are is not what we do, but we know that what we do is driven by who we are.
Juan F. Diaz
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