Quit Looking for Your Authentic Self

I do not believe in the concept of having one authentic self. I believe you are made up of many selves that you draw on in various situations. The more successful you are, the better you are at drawing out the parts of yourself that will help you achieve your goals. Instead, if you only define yourself as “a fighter” or “a leader” in every situation, you win some and you lose some.

If instead, you cultivate your “selves concept,” you accept a bigger reality of yourself. You may have a core seed of self that doesn’t change, but then you modify aspects of who you are in order to handle the situation you are facing. Through dialogue, reflection and persistence you can increase your ability to adapt to circumstances by intentionally bringing forth different aspects of yourself for better results.

The process of expanding your sense of self — which includes the many selves you call forth — requires you to let go of who you think you are to allow the many faces of you to emerge. This can be scary. You rely on a strong sense of self to succeed. Yet that strength can hold you back. The more open you are to considering new ways of thinking and acting, the faster you will succeed. You will also be happier and healthier.

Look at who you are being today and then you imagine a broader sense of self that will better serve your aspirations. You mentally see who you want to be first. Then you create a plan for making this new expanded version of you a reality.

One way of making this process more tangible is to work with archetypes. According to the work of Caroline Myss, archetypes are patterns of energy that you carry as you go about your life. Some patterns are innate, wired into your brain when you are born. Other patterns take shape as you learn how to deal with difficulties and you are rewarded for specific behaviors. You develop these patterns throughout your life. Therefore, you can consciously call on specific aspects of yourself when you need them if you are aware of the various archetypes naturally available to you.

The names given to the archetypes, such as Queen, Martyr, and Inspirer, are designed to help you identify a set of behaviors that might serve you or hurt you in a situation. For example, calling on your Queen archetype can be useful to you if you need to stand your ground when you are negotiating for resources for your team. These same behaviors can be harmful if you play your Queen card when arguing with your spouse.

Sometimes we naturally shift our patterns with maturity. For example, I called on Warrior energy early in my career to help me fight my way up the ladder in two male-dominated corporations. Now I gain better results when I call on Connector and Inspirer energies. All three are still aspects of who I am but the balance has changed.

If you can identify the dominant and secondary archetypes present in your life right now, you will better understand the motivations for your actions and then choose new responses instead of acting habitually in various contexts. When you are running a meeting and it is not going well, you can call forth another archetype that might be more useful to you than the one that usually dominates.

This process of identifying, focusing on some, and decreasing other behavioral patterns is how you expand who you think you are. The speed of personal growth depends on you living in a state of curiosity instead of certainty. Open your mind to possibilities and you will find you will fight less with other people without having to surrender what is most important to you.

The following archetypes are the most common in the high-achieving women I have coached, but represent only some of the patterns you may express. If you are interested in a more comprehensive list with descriptions, I recommend Sacred Contracts by Caroline Myss or my book, Wander Woman.

Exercise: When you look at the narrative of your life, what characters do you see yourself playing?

Step 1. Circle your six dominant selves. If you struggle choosing, ask someone who knows you well to help you limit your list to six.

Driver; Pioneer; Queen; Warrior; Revolutionary; Rebel; Thinker; Adventurer; Storyteller; Commander; Collaborator ; Visionary; Inspirer; Heroine; Wanderer; Martyr; Advocate; Superstar; Taskmaster; Coach; Healer; Entertainer; Mentor; Mother; Comedian; Magician; Teacher; Detective; Connector; Gambler; Scholar; Companion; Fixer; Idealist; Artist; Femme Fatale

Step 2. Add two or three archetypes that you feel you own but haven’t yet developed (come up with your own names too). Add these to your dominant six and you have the board of directors making your life decisions. When you are struggling with a relationship or life decision, ask your board, one by one, what to do.

Use your “selves” to find new more successful ways to be with others.

Adapted from Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction by Marcia Reynolds, PsyD, leadership coach.

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