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Who Are You? Really.

“The greatest mystery in life is who you really are” - Alexander Dumas

More importantly, is who you are consistent with the goals you’ve established for yourself. If these are out of sync, it will be nearly impossible to succeed and get a satisfying outcome. Our goals must be aligned with our true selves in order to achieve them.

But first, do you honestly know who you are? The truth is most people don’t know. They have a sense of who they should be from family, school, community, friends, but become very uncomfortable allowing themselves to consider and identify who they really are. Have you ever felt like that, living up to standards set by external sources but not having taken a deep look inside to see who lives there?

What if you’re not sure? How can you find out . . . authentically?

I usually avoid celebrity callouts that cite famous clients, people I interviewed or my mentors. But there are two insightful exercises I borrowed from the author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Jack Canfield, that are so simple and helpful that I have to acknowledge him. We’ll be talking about one of them in this article and the other in the next one.

About 5 years ago, I was taking part in a week-long program with Jack in Phoenix Arizona. It was summer and it was boiling hot. The temperature was over 100 each day and hit 114 on the day I’m about to describe. Even though the heat was oppressive, I got up that day and walked 8 miles before the sessions began. This is relevant because of a question he had us answer.

It was Jack’s Train the Trainer program. We were a group of 200+ eager participants in this immersive experience where we could learn about ourselves and how to help others. Jack is a curator of experiences and exercises from over 600 psychology based workshops that he personally attended. He shared the most insight enhancing ones with us. We started each day eager to participate in the next experiment in being fully human.

That hot July day, he invited us to pair with the person next to us. One person asked, “Who are you?” and waited for an answer, then asked the same question again and again repeatedly for 2 minutes. Just asking, not commenting. Then the roles were switched.

The first responses everyone seemed to have were provided quickly and fairly obviously having to do with typical roles.

For example, my partner replied with . . .

Who are you?


Who are you?

A mother

Who are you?

A teacher

Who are you?

A devoted daughter

Who are you?

A student of Jack Canfield

My initial responses were similar when Chandra asked me…

Who are you?


Who are you?

Sharon Livingston

Who are you?

Dr. Sharon Livingston

Who are you?

An Aunt

Who are you?

A good friend

Who are you?

A nice boss and business owner

Who are you?

A coach

Who are you?

A coach trainer

There were more responses like that, roles she and I played in our inner circles and outside world. The next answers came more slowly but more considered and much more revealing. As I had to think more to respond, what I valued, what I felt proud of and what I worried about also started to bubble up.

Who are you? Chandra asked for maybe the 20th time.

Something went off in my mind. Before she could repeat the question, a number of self assessments erupted from me. [ I later apologized for doing the exercise my own way but wasn’t really sorry for the opportunity to express my feelings and self judgments].

The morning’s blistering walk in the sun flashed through my mind.

I’m a persistent person who commits to what I think is important and follows through even when it’s hard.

As long as there’s hope, I never give up.

Then I was on a roll with a flood of ardent, heartfelt thoughts

I’m a lover of life, no matter what

I’m an advocate of those I love – People and Ideas

I work hard

I’m a creative, problem solver

I love to be challenged to do better

I succeed at my goals most of the time

I’m a compassionate listener

I’m a person who needs people

I believe in the healing power of relationships

I love to be in love

I appreciate beautiful things

I like to be able to buy things but don’t really care about wealth

I’m a dog lover

I love cats too

I love to use humor to help people feel less stress

I’m an artist who delights in color and contrast

I hate to be bored

I’m an emotional observer and writer

I’m an all-in kind of person

Chandra’s eyes were wide. She didn’t expect this passionate outpouring. Frankly, neither did I.

I quickly wrote down as many of my responses as I could remember to revisit them later. Which ones triggered a sense of pride? Which did I want to be more of? Which were consistent with my public and professional persona and which were not? It was exhilarating.

How could I use this insight mining technique to help my clients, especially those who were struggling with attaining a goal they thought was important. You may think this is over the top, but what I did when I got back to my hotel room was to call one of my clients and offer him a free session to try an experiment with me.

“Now?” he asked.

“or tell me when is better . . .”

We agreed on now.

This client happened to be a PhD psychologist who had been trying to grow his individual practice for several years without the success he had hoped for. His goal was 30 clients per week but he only had 7, the same 7 he’d been helping for several years. He was always game for trying a new approach so I thought we could both learn from this exercise.

I started the questions.

Who are you?


Who are you?

Dave Rumson

Who are you?

A father

The answers followed the pattern of roles and then started on a more personal departure.

Who are you?

A man who loves to hike in the mountains

Who are you?

A mini philosopher

Who are you?

A science fiction lover

Who are you?

A seeker of truth

Who are you?

A loner

Who are you?

A lover of summer

Who are you?

A lover of solitude

Who are you?

A writer

Does this sound like someone who wants to spend 30 hours a week helping other people?

Yet, he told me that he always knew he was supposed to be a psychologist.

A little back story…

From the time Dave was a small boy, his mother confided her hurts, sadness and frustrations with him. Even though he was so young, she leaned on him for support. As little as he was, he knew to hold her hand and her feelings. What else could he do? He needed her to be whole so she could take care of him. He’d quietly listen, without much comment, nodding and non-verbally empathizing, taking her hand from time to time. She’d dry her eyes, sigh, hug him close and say, “You know. You’re so wonderful, my little psychologist.”

Makes sense that he would want to fulfill his mother’s role for him, right?

But what did he want? What would give him satisfaction? How can he reach for something that is truly his?


In the next article, I’ll tell you what happened when I asked him the second repetitive question, “What do you want?” and how we used the answers to the two questions to help him rethink his goal and create a more satisfying outcome and plan to get there. In the meantime, are you up to asking yourself the question, Who are you? Try it with a friend or try it with your bathroom mirror.

To recap.

The person asking the question repeats it for 2 minutes without any comments, just repeating the question and waiting for a response. If you’re doing it in the mirror, follow the same rule as if you’re the questioner. You might want to put your phone recorder on to capture what you say, so you can think about it later. AND, if you’d like some help with the exercise, feel free to reach out to me. 603 – 505 – 5000

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