Know Who You Are

Martin is an Executive Assistant to his lifelong friend, Carlton, who is the CEO of a company that employs 500. At work, Carlton keeps Martin nearby, and their offices are next to each other. Carlton trusts Martin, values his judgment, and rarely makes a decision without Martin’s input. When Carlton travels on business, Martin is at his side. Carlton understands the strain this dependency puts on Martin, and he often says to Martin, “Bring Cheryl [Martin’s wife] and the kids along for this trip. We’ll give them some vacation time.”

Business associates who work with Carlton regularly are aware of how much Martin knows about the business, and how much he contributes to his company. His reputation as a knowledgeable insider is so high, many companies have tried to lure him away from his company. Martin, however, is exceptionally loyal, and he is unfazed by competitors who say, “It’s time for you to be a CEO yourself. Come work with us and you will be totally in charge of our Operational Division, and we’ll pay you 50% more than you make now.” Martin always turns them down. On one of these occasions, he was asked, “Why do you reject this offer? You’re ready, Martin. You know this business better than anyone I know. Why would you want to stay #2 on the totem pole?”

Martin laughed. “I know who I am. My strengths are working behind the scenes – organizing, planning, strategizing. Put me in front of a Board of Directors or a Congressional committee and I melt. My heart pounds, I sweat, I fumble over words. I don’t think fast on my feet. But Carlton – he could stand before the United Nations and stay cool as a cucumber. As long as he has my outline before him, he’s never at a loss for words and sounding coherent. If he’s asked a question we didn’t anticipate, he thinks with the speed of a lightning bolt and bluffs his way through it, always staying like a rock: solid and cool, guided by my outline. Make me a CEO? No thanks. I would fall on my face all the time. It’s not who I am.”

“It’s not who I am.” If you want to cope well, you must both learn and accept who you are. By that, I don’t mean you should never try to improve yourself. But you must know yourself well enough to identify the particular skills and attributes you are able to improve. You must know your body and your mind. Martin is there – he knows the situations when he is strong, and he knows when he is “out of his league.” He also knows that his weaknesses do not make him incompetent and useless; recognizing his weaknesses does not affect his self-esteem. He also chooses not to try and deny and overcome those weaknesses that are a part of his fundamental nature. It is those things he does fairly well that he always works to improve. He is who he is and he feels fine with the life he has.

Take the example of Martin to heart. Coping with stress often involves recognizing the reality of your strengths and weaknesses. Yes, you may choose to attack and work on some of your weaknesses and be able to take on new challenges. You may also, decide, however, that confronting some of those weaknesses and changing them probably won’t work, nor is that effort needed for your sense of self-worth, purpose, and ability to meet the demands of your chosen life path. Know who you are, be that person as best you can, and move forward as that person, purposefully moving toward goals that give your life some meaning.

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