What is the Name That is Big Enough to Hold Your Life?

BLOG What is the Name That is Big Enough to Hold Your Life?

life is a verb
Thinking more about Meg Wheatley and Chris Corrigan’s “Big Question“:

From Meg: How do you call yourself? How do you identify yourself? And have you chosen a name for yourself that is big enough to hold your life’s work? I have a colleague who first suggested this to me. And he said, “So many of us choose names that are too small for a whole life.” So, we call ourselves, ‘cancer survivors;’ that seems to be a very bold name, but is it big enough to hold a life? Or, ‘children of abuse.’ Or, we call ourselves ‘orphans,’ or ‘widows,’ or ‘martyrs’…. are these names big enough to hold your life?

From Chris: What is the name that is big enough to hold your life? This is a name beyond who we are and who we have been – it is a name that we tremble to live into.

This is not our job description, our given name, our title, or our position in our family or society. It is about who we really are and what we really do, something that is important to the rest of the world (after all, we have a ‘name’ so others can identify us, understand us, and connect with us — we don’t need one to describe what’s just important to us).

It’s interesting to me that we are so hesitant to name ourselves until and unless we have some kind of external acknowledgement that we have ‘earned’ that name. Calling ourselves something different from what our parents called us is considered by many self-indulgent. Many ‘professions’ prohibit you from calling yourself ‘their’ name (doctor, lawyer, etc.) unless it has been officially conferred on you after some kind of test or other initiation rite. I was hesitant to call myself a writer or author until I had actually been published. This is all unfortunate — we are cowed from naming ourselves who we know (or think) we really are without sanction. How can others expect to know who we are if we don’t declare it, if we wait for them to tell us?

This comes back, I think, to this idea of identity that pervaded this weekend’s Northern Voice conference. We have different identities within each of the communities (real and virtual) to which we belong: mother, neighbour, teacher, blogger, tweeter, committee chair, coordinator, avatar. Often these names don’t ‘talk’ to each other: each community identifies us, ‘knows’ us, only in the context of what we are called (or call ourselves) in that community. No wonder it is so difficult to move between communities, and bring others along with us, introduce them to all that we are!

What I think Meg and Chris are saying is that if we give ourselves a meta-name, a name big enough to hold all that we do, then connecting our communities and networks, bridging them, and broadening understanding between these communities, and between us as individuals, all-that-we-are, would be much easier.

What this meta-name is as well, perhaps, is a means of establishing boundaries for ourselves, telling others not only who (all) we are, but also who we are not. It’s also a way of embracing both who we ‘are’ and what we ‘do’.

William Tozier’s wonderful post last year (“I do… this“) on the virtues of being a generalist might make us think that this ‘meta-name’ would have to be so broad as to be meaningless (calling yourself “a human” comes to mind). But Meg and Chris are also urging us to describe ourselves not by the outcomes we aspire to but the activities we engage in, alone and with others, to move forward. When Patti Digh said her (and perhaps our) job is to “just help them get started”, that’s the kind of name we’re talking about. “What do you do?” “I just help people get started“. Now that’s a big name.

I write about things that help people imagine possibilities. In my blog, in my book Finding the Sweet Spot, in my novel-in-progress The Only Life We Know, in my work. That’s what I do, and will always do, that matters to others. Too long a name, perhaps, but I think that’s my ‘big enough’ name.

What’s yours? What is the name that is big enough to hold your life? What name do you tremble to live into?

Category: Being Human

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9 Responses to What is the Name That is Big Enough to Hold Your Life?

  1. John Graham says:

    I like to believe that I have a ‘real’ name, but I’ll never know it – that’s marvel-lous enough for me. Anything I come up with would be a category, or a reference. Not only that, but every other centre-of-sentience has a name too. Not each species of duck, but each actual duck, each actual bacteria. There’s something I don’t know how to do without using the word God, or at least G-d, and that is to sit and look out (at the lake or from this library computer), realising – “G-d knows all those names…”…wow. Ah! “Christ plays in ten thousand places” – Gerard Manley Hopkins (via Eugene Peterson)And then,”Once I was the walrus, but now I’m John”That’ll do.

  2. John Graham says:

    Darn, misquote there – “I was the walrus, now I’m John” – no “Once”.

  3. Ben Milner says:

    Firstly I just wanted to say thank you. Over the past 5 years or so that I have been reading your blog you have definitely helped me to imagine the possibilities of a better world.It seems like what you are talking about with a meta-name is trying to set a holistic goal for the self. Something I have been thinking about quite a bit recently. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holistic_management#The_Holistic_Management_FrameworkThe real value then comes when you use your holistic goal (or meta-name) to weigh up your actions, activities and decisions to “determine whether or not they will help reach the established holistic goal”I feel like this is a really useful tool to help us actually achieve what we are aiming to do effectively, whilst avoiding doing things that are distractions. However in terms of actually defining my whole life with a goal or a name I don

  4. EJ says:

    studentLearning until the day I die, I hope

  5. Paris says:

    My parents gave me a nice firstname meaning “king of peace”, I think I don’t another one:I like cooperation over competitionI like dialogue and compromise over hierarchy and fightsSo it suits me.

  6. Kimberly says:

    On one hand, I hesitate to assign myself a name to be put in a box. Even a very large box is still a box. Even though if I were to pick a title, I would ensure that it carried potential for change, openness and growth, it would still enable others to pre-judge and decide what I am or am not interested in, capable of, or experienced in. There is a genuine curiousity that can be fostered when we must engage in dialogue to understand another complex being. It is this curiousity and capacity to connect that will bring our world to better places. It is a security that is found within oneself and that does not require external validation. This security then furthers our capacity to welcome and accept the unknown and unfamiliar, a loss of the “need to know”. A name or title allows people to predetermine if we would be able to connect or not, while it is likely that our common ground (which can be found between any two beings) is not included in one’s title/name. On the other hand, there is pride and ego associated with a title and it is incredibly challenging to exist humbly and nameless in our ego driven world.

  7. Jim Camasto says:

    A World Of Improvement. That’s what I “named” my local repair/restore/paint/install enterprise of one. After fouling out of corporate landfill engineering, more than a decade ago… I still do a few patent design drawings (for others); perhaps now more solar consulting/networking; all family house/auto maintenance/repair…Racquetball. Tribalism. Self directed learning. Alternative energy. Community. Drumming. Networking. Biking. Local/Organic/Emergent. It all still fits…

  8. Romi Rancken says:

    I was named Rolf Mikael when I was born, but my parents started to call me Romi from the beginning. When I was 35 I changed my name officially to Romi – Rolf Mikael had never been me.About two years ago when I during a sabbatical had the opportunity to take a step back and look at my 25 year long career as a college teacher, I came to the conclusion that I have to mentally identify myself as not a part of the school system, but as a “pedagogical entrepreneur”. Then I came up with a word that helped me rebuild my approach to what I do for a living: “Romiversity”. Universities are for both teaching and learning and that’s what I do all the time (actually more learning than teaching). I have built my own websites instead of using the LMS of my college. If I need a book or an audio recorder to develop my courses I buy it myself with my own money, I don’t want to ask permission from the administrators an try to convince them that it’s important.This concept of Romiversity can be seen as extremely individualistic but it has made me happier person and probably a better teacher, colleague and networker. I now have a name for my node in the educational network. But I never use that name among other people – you are the first to hear about it :-)Dave, your “Daversity” (that’s nice, implies diversity as well) has been important for me, thanks!

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