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Your Personal Identity: How Do You Define Yourself?
In 2004, I lost my $3 million business in a vindictive lawsuit that also led to me losing my marriage and all of my savings. While I could easily give up and crawl into a corner somewhere, how I choose to frame these events is entirely up to me. While I cant control what other people do, I can control how I choose to frame or view what is happening.
People marveled at my positive attitude in losing everything. My response is, Whats the alternative? The way I choose to frame these events is that losing everything is a fascinating process. Im not trying to say I didnt have stress. No way. Pepto Bismol was always within arms reach. But I found it amazing how people respond when you go from being the top guy to having all of your resources taken from you. In the majority of the cases, the friends and family members who I would have bet money would try to help out completely abandoned me while people I hardly knew stepped up big time.
Let me tell you. Having to empty your savings, your childrens college funds and going from debt free to $750,000 in debt in three years is a very painful experience. However, I refuse to allow those events to define me anymore than I would allow my successes to define me. All that matters is how I respond to these events. All I can control is my patterns of thought and behavior.
The first 20-years of my training, the martial arts defined who I was. I used the martial arts to transform myself from chubby teenager to athletic karate jock. Martial arts was virtually all I talked about. All my friends were martial artists. Even if I went to a volleyball tournament, it was usually with a bunch of black belts. It wasnt until I launched the National Association of Professional Martial Artists (NAPMA) in 1993 that I began to realize that, while martial arts helped me to reinvent myself identity, the job was only half-done. I had to reintegrate my martial arts with my inner self so that martial arts became a facet of who I was, not the entire definition.
When good or bad things happen to you its important that you not let them define you. Being a champion black belt on TV was my identity for years. If you are allowing your success to be your identity, then your hiding your real self. Think about film stars who choose not to live in Hollywood. They view their stardom as an extension of who they are instead of the definition of their identity. Sandra Bullock lives in Texas and its pretty clear when you see her in interviews that she views acting as a high paying job she enjoys but also that there is much more to her than just acting. In contrast, Jack Nicholson is iconic in his identity as film star. Being a movie star is his identity.
By the same token when something bad happens to you or you do something you wish you hadnt, be careful not to let it define you as well. This is not always easy, but its critically important. Often when something bad happens or someone does something bad to you, it creates a prison that confines your self-image and potential for growth. When the action against you is really horrendous, such as molestation or abuse, the prison so tightly confines you that your self-image is built around this event.
Heres the reality. You did nothing to deserve what happened to you and while you are obsessing with the negatives associated with the event, and they are horrible, the person who committed the act is doing laundry. You are not on their mind, they are on your mind for as long as you allow them to be.
If I allowed myself, it would be easy to be mired in the mud of self-pity and absorb myself in negative thoughts and behaviors about the man who sues me for fun. What Ive realized is that like all of us including anyone who has wronged you, he is a product of his own programming. Once I understood that, it was easy to forgive him. Forgiving him does not condone what he did nor does it make it right. I think what he did is sick. But, I refuse to allow what he did to me to keep me in a prison of a negative mind. What is the alternative? I obsess with his attacks on me while he goes and plays a round of golf. If I hold onto the negative effects of his attacks I give him permission to compound the effects into all areas of my life. Well, permission is not granted.
What has happened to you good and bad is not you. What matters is how you deal with it.
John Graden is the author of The Impostor Syndrome. The Impostor Syndrome is the feeling you’re not as smart, talented, or skilled as others think you are. It’s the feeling you’ve been faking it and are about to be found out. Learn more about the book at:
Your Personal Identity: How Do You Define Yourself?}