“You are most yourself when you forget yourself,” we are told. People often reveal their true talents when completely immersing themselves in an activity.
Writing in his book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains that during such times people:
“Find their concern for self disappears, but paradoxically their sense of self emerges stronger.”
Embarking on this adventure often involves taking three steps: finding yourself, accepting yourself and forgetting yourself. Let’s explore these stages.
1) Finding yourself.
Individuals continue to ask the eternal questions: “Who am I? Where am I going? How can I get there?” Different people embark on different journeys towards finding their answers. One person explained:
“The first 25 years of my life were spent gathering experiences. Fortunately my parents encouraged me to pursue my own path, providing I learned from my mistakes.
“My gap year turned into 3 years. After travelling the world, I spent two years working in refugee camps in Asia. Returning to the UK, I decided to work for human rights. The world may be unfair, but I want to help as many people as possible to get a fair start in life. This sense of mission gets me up each morning.”
So how do you ‘find yourself’? “Go out into the world”, is the mantra. Live, learn and find your labour of love. Then clarify your legacy, the things you want to give to the world.
Try many experiences. Sometimes you will say: “This feels right – this is what I was meant to do.”
Continue adventuring and, when you are ready, look back at your most satisfying projects. What made them satisfying? Can you see any patterns?
If so, do they give any clues to your vocation? You can express this vocation through many different vehicles on the way towards doing valuable work.
2) Accepting yourself.
“During my 20s and 30s I attended many workshops where the tone seemed to be: ‘What do you want to change about yourself?’ said one person. “So I focused on ‘Who I’m not’, rather than ‘Who I am’.
“One day I just get fed-up and said: ‘I am going to be myself.’ Since then I have felt more at peace. I try to do the work I like, dress the way I like – within limits – and spend time with the people I like. Certainly I can keep improving but, if I fail, I am going to fail doing what I believe-in.”
People reach a point where they accept their strengths. They build on where they deliver As and manage the consequences of their Bs and Cs. Setting specific goals, they go onto the next stage.
3) Forgetting yourself.
“Coaching is all about the other person, it is not about you,” the course leader explained as we each prepared to do a practice session watched by the whole group.
“Concentrate on the person in front of you. Give them 100% attention. Be calm, clarify their goals and help them to get concrete results. The temptation will be to show off by using clever techniques, but that is not the point. Success depends on what the person gets from the session, not whether you impress your watching colleagues.”
This was a salutory lesson. So we got on with trying to help the client to succeed.
Try tackling the exercise on this theme. This is in three parts.
* Describe a specific activity in which you lose your self but emerge feeling fulfilled.
Perhaps it is when you are painting, solving a problem, climbing a mountain, teaching, gardening, giving to another person or whatever.
* Describe the specific things you do right then.
You may feel as if you are simply channelling energy towards achieving a specific goal. Giving 100% attention, you do the hard work required to achieve 8/10. You then begin flowing to fulfilment.
* Describe the specific things you can do to follow these principles and forget yourself in other situations.
“Life is full of paradoxes,” we are told. Perhaps, but the paradoxes may simply be part of a circle: such as finding, accepting and forgetting yourself. You are then more likely to be your real self and give what you can to the world. Try completing the following sentences.