In a post last summer I wrote:
Know yourself. With self-knowledge, anything is possible. Without it, you are just everybody-else.
When I wrote last month about What is the Name That is Big Enough to Hold Your Life? I was speaking metaphorically. It is not enough, I asserted, drawing on the work of Meg Wheatley and Chris Corrigan, to identify yourself by what you do “for a living”, or by your affliction, or your role or status. Who you are is much more than that. But I was not recommending that we all change our given names, as some of you seemed to think. What I was talking about was ‘naming’ in the sense of clarifying, specifying, everything you are and do and intend to be and to do. This we should do mostly for our own purposes, so that we do not constrain ourselves to how others see us, define us in terms of everybody-else, but also because, when we start to identify ourselves to others in a certain way, we tend to start to move towards and embody that broader, more self-aware and aspirational, intentional self-identification.
So when I say that the name big enough to hold my life is “a writer who helps people imagine possibilities”, that is not merely a reflection of what I have done, but also who I am, where I find meaning and purpose, what I’m competent at but have not been recognized for, what I love and want and intend to do and to be. It’s a shorthand version of my story, past, present and future.
It occurred to me in writing yesterday’s article about attention and appreciation that the process of learning about ourselves, which I encouraged in order to better understand and wean ourselves off our addiction to the attention and appreciation of others, could also be useful in coming up with this “name big enough to hold your life.” I suggested using the three-circles diagram above, from my book Finding the Sweet Spot, to find your own sweet spot, the place where what you are uniquely good at, what you love doing, and what is needed in the world that you care about intersect. Is the ‘name’ of what is in that sweet spot also the “name big enough to hold your life”?
I think it is in part. Part of our lives should be to be of use to others, but that is not all we should do, or be. There are things we love doing, things that bring us joy and meaning, that are not in the sweet spot, either because they are not needed, or because we are amateurs at them, not good enough to ‘make a living’ at them. The word ‘amateur’ literally means ‘lover’ — to be an amateur at something you need only love doing it. It is only, tellingly, in the last two centuries that the word has come to mean a dabbler, someone who is not a ‘professional’. Similarly, the word ‘profession’ literally means something you have declared openly, “put forward”, and only later came to mean something you declare yourself skillful at.
So, in the chart above, you are an ‘amateur’ at anything in the red circle, in areas 1-4, and you are (our could say you are) a ‘professional’ at anything you are good at, anything in the green circle, areas 2, 3, 5 and 7.
What, then, is the name that is big enough to hold your life, that, as Chris puts it, “what you tremble to live into”? Is it how you would describe yourself in a personal ad about yourself seeking someone to love? Hopefully not. Is it how you would describe yourself in a resume, including your “career ambitions”? Definitely not. Is it how you would describe yourself at a business social, or a cocktail party*?
I don’t think “the name big enough to hold your life” is how you describe yourself in any of these ‘selling’ or ‘matchmaking’ occasions. Such events will inevitably cause you to identify and define yourself in others’ context, in the context of ‘everybody-else’.
I come back to Passions: the the things you love doing, and being. I don’t think the things you do just because you’re good at them, or just because they’re needed, define you at all. Your “big enough name” is everything in the red circle, in areas 1-4. The fact that some of these things are in your sweet spot, or aren’t, and why, is part of your “big enough name”. The “ten things I do” — exploring/discovering (people and places), reflecting/imagining possibilities, writing, loving, learning, conversing, sensing/being present, playing, coaching/showing, self-managing — are mostly (except imagining possibilities and writing) outside my sweet spot, but all of them are in areas 1-4.
Perhaps my full “big enough name” needs to embrace all ten things, and the two in my sweet spot (“a writer who helps people imagine possibilities”) is my “big enough nickname”.
Why is this “big enough name” so important?
Does this make sense? Is it useful? Do I need to add more exercises that people can try to discover what’s in their sweet spot, and what they have a passion for (that they may not realize) that is part of their “big enough name”?
(*As an aside, I remain infatuated with NTag technology for such social occasions, an MIT spinoff that just, to my surprise, filed for bankruptcy — has anyone reading this used it?)
Category: Human Nature