Who are you?
What an audacious question—especially for a multipotentialite, who could answer it in what seems like a million different ways. You might say: Well, what time of day is it? or Do you want the short answer, or the long one?
Personally, I always struggled to answer that question…until I watched Emilie’s TED Talk. I am not being paid to say that—it’s really true! Being introduced to Puttylike has helped me articulate who I am in a way that makes me feel whole rather than scattered; purposeful rather than adrift.
But it wasn’t always like that. Today, I want to tell you a story about being asked that question, and having no good answer. I’ll hypothesize about where that lack came from, and how I have come up with a more satisfying answer. Let’s get into it!
One of the very straightforward ways that I could answer Who are you? is by saying that I am a dance teacher. Over the past two decades, I’ve taught and choreographed dance in over 20 organizations—including dance studios, dance teams, camps, sports teams, bars (one of them a Coyote Ugly-style country music bar!), fitness clubs, and fashion shows. I’ve taught everything from beginner to advanced, both recreational and competitive. Dance is the interest in my multipotentialite life that has lasted the longest. When I’m apart from it for a while, dance always comes back to find me in one way or another. And yet…
Once upon a time…
A dance parent asked me, Who are you? and I didn’t have an answer for her.
Around ten years ago, a fellow dance teacher and friend—let’s call her Dee—invited me to her studio’s dress rehearsal so that I could give her feedback on the show. As I watched the dress rehearsal with some colleagues, a parent of a dancer in the show came up to me and asked, “Who are you?”
At first, my colleagues and I laughed it off because we assumed the parent was joking around. But then she asked again: “No, really, who are you?”
It got awkward and quiet as we realized that this parent was truly demanding an answer. Instead of speaking up for myself, I looked around for help. My colleagues started to interject:
“She’s been a dance teacher for ten years.”
But still, this parent would not give up. Who are you?
A few years later, Dee asked me to coach a competitive dance soloist at her studio. I was excited because it hit a multipotentialite sweet spot for me: dancer, educator, and coach. Right before we began our first coaching session, Dee pulled me aside to tell me that the soloist’s parent was concerned that I wasn’t a good enough dancer to be an effective coach for her daughter. I think by now you can guess who that parent was: It was the same one who had asked me, years before, “Who are you?”
I still didn’t have an answer
Looking back, I realize that I relied on other people to tell me who I was for way too long. It might have started on the first day that I received letter grades on my report card. All of a sudden, I was no longer doing “very good” in one area, and “needing improvement” in another area. I was just a B. My parents taught me that a B was bad. That meant I was bad. I learned that if I was an A, that was good—I was good. Getting As could get me to other places that I wanted to go, too.
Over time, I expanded this strategy—seeking an external standard to tell me who I was—into every other area of my life. It seemed like the way the world worked! Based on my parents’ shocking reaction to what I’d thought was a pretty decent report card, I deduced that if I was going to get anywhere in life, it didn’t matter how I felt about myself. What mattered was how others saw me.
But let me get back to my dance story. I’m sure you are all eager to know how I answered when that dance parent asked me, “Who are you?”
My internal answer?
I had unconsciously decided that I was an imposter because of what that dance parent didn’t say about who I was. If I would have given her an answer, it would have been that I was a dance teacher of over ten years who had finally been found out as a fraud. I was definitely not good enough to demonstrate dance, teach, or coach anyone. In a way, I was relieved because it confirmed what I had always suspected about my true self.
Now, the internal answer I gave myself was not at all the external persona I projected to everyone else.
At the time, I laughed it off with Dee. In fact, the only reason Dee had shared this parent’s objections with me was because she had such confidence in who I was. More importantly, Dee believed that I knew who I was, too. She had never imagined that I would allow anyone else to define who I was, what I was good at, or where I belonged.
But it did bother me. It slowly unraveled me that year. My confidence, my joy, and my sense of purpose suffered as I refused to deal with that unravelling. I think I just worked harder to paper over the answer to that question with more accomplishments, more awards, more people vouching for me (Enneagram Three, much?) …until today.
The big questions
I have realized that when I hear Who are you? I am really hearing some deeper questions that also start with the letter ‘w’. And these questions require a massive amount of courage and self-compassion to answer.
- Where do you belong?
- What is your value (to me, to us, to this organization, to the world)?
- Why do you matter?
For multipotentialites, these questions can cause a lot of distress. What if you have an interest in something, but no talent to go with it? What if you have talent in a certain area, but find yourself drawn to something else entirely? What if the thing you love the most doesn’t seem to be getting you closer to the life you want for yourself? What if you have a beautiful smorgasbord of talents and interests, but refuse to pick just one as the main entrée to your life?
Then who are you?
Well, you’re definitely a multipotentialite. More importantly, no matter how many talents you have or how many interests you choose to pursue; no matter how many awards you have on your wall or how many embarrassing reminders of times you’ve started a project and didn’t finish it, you get to decide what it all means. If, that is, it means anything at all.
You were born with inherent worth and value to this world. You can invite yourself to any party you’d like.
So, today, here is my audaciously simple answer to the question, Who are you?
Exactly who I want to be, thanks.
When you hear the question, Who are you? what do you really hear? How do you answer?
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