I confess, in the 1970s one of my favorite songs was sung by Neil Diamond. Every time the song played on the radio I wailed along with him “I AM I CRIED…” It spoke to what was churning in me at that stage in my life, uncertainty over who I actually was, looking for a voice.
I didn’t give much thought to it beyond that. And I didn’t give much thought to the phrase ‘I am” and all the ways it showed up in daily speech, for many years.
Then along came self-actualization courses, growth programs, personal development gurus. Each of these offered new ways of standing in front of a mirror, figurative or literal, and learning techniques to shift self perception. To change the words that follow the “I am…” of identity in order to offer me new opportunities, possibilities, and options for my present identity and future life.
I’ve loved immersing myself in every single one of them. But frankly, I’m always taking in tools and techniques so I can take them to my clients, and those particular tools often required hours, days and even weeks of attention. Not easy to translate into a discussion with a client.
This past week, one of my busy, overworked clients looked me dead in the eye and said fiercely and militantly “I’m rotten at managing.”
We were discussing the poor performance of one of his new hires; a young woman with little work experience who was having a hard time learning how to follow through on assignments he gave her. He was tense and frustrated and angry at her for needing repeated time and attention from him. He wanted a good fight and it might as well be with me. She was making him ‘work’ at managing, and he expected I was going to as well.
So I asked, “Do you mean you’ve tried to manage, with poor results, or you can’t be bothered to try?”
He paused. Well, let’s call it a pause. He took a deep breath and said “I am …” and I interrupted him before he finished the sentence.
I pulled out the big guns ‘ the howitzer of consulting and coaching, the well-aimed powerhouse tool … Actually, I slipped in under his radar – I interrupted him.
“A part of me…”
I spoke it right over his voice and he stopped without finishing the sentence.
I repeated it. “A part of me…”
“A part of me, what?”
“Reword that sentence – A part of me is rotten at managing.”
He sat there facing me, in silence, letting the words and their implications settle in.
“You can hang on to that label, and make yourself right. Or you can recognize it’s only a part of you and open up the world of options.” I offered.
That simple change in wording gave him a choice. He could choose between different realities and insist that ‘all of him’ was rotten at something, and be darned proud of it. Or he could declare that his effort had been lacking. Or that some portion of himself might be rotten. But that last one left a whole lot of himself that might have never actually been given a chance to show what it might do by way of managing.
And he sat there in the choice. He’d hired me to help him get new results. And in that moment he was faced with the fact that the results he was getting were due to the identity he was fiercely and proudly holding onto. Being rotten at managing meant the solution would have to come from elsewhere, not him. His consultant was going to have to solve this enormous, insurmountable problem for him!
“Try it,” I said. “A part of me…”
“A part of me doesn’t want to spend all the time managing takes. It’s distracting me from getting stuff done.”
He changed the issue itself right then and there. And by shifting his certainty and identity, the challenge melted away, the guns were rolled back, the battle melted out of existence.
“OK. So let me show you a simple, efficient way to walk her through the assignment that will get her on track and get you up a level in managing.”
And he did. And I did. And she did. And a part of him is.
What about you?
© 2007 Linda Feinholz.