Recently, I marked a milestone with the 25th anniversary of my celebrate life day. A day that would take me on a journey to answer the question how do you define who you are. 

One that from the start, I never let what happened define or limit me. You can read about my accident in a previous post or better yet book me to speak at your business or event and you’ll hear about it firsthand (yes shameless plug).

Don’t get me wrong. The accident changed me; you might even say transformed me, though I would say that transformation happened over time and is still happening today.

Changes that happen in your life do not define you. Only you can define who you are. No one else and not the things that happen to you.

If you let what happens to you or what others say define who you are, you are setting limits on yourself before you have even had a chance to learn or try.

Then how do you define yourself? Or should you even define who you are?

I am of the camp that yes you should know and define who you are. Some experts say defining yourself is a self-limiting exercise. I don’t see it that way. Why? Because I believe who you are, the very definition, evolves and changes over time. It’s not something that is carved in stone and permanent. Who I was as I recovered from the accident is not the person I am today. I believe the growth and transformation comes through change which means the definition of who you are changes and transforms as well 

How do you define who you are? 

It’s not about your title, what you do, where you work, where you live, what you own or what happened to you. These are things that can come and go and are not what define who you are. This is how most often people define themselves by the “items” they have in their life; rather than the qualities that make them who they are. 

Use these 8 qualities when you define who you are:

Your values, skills, characteristics, hopes, dreams, what’s important to you, what you stand for and what you are passionate about

However, don’t limit yourself to that definition. As the saying goes: you only know what you only know. Keep yourself open to new learnings and sometimes unlearning things you know. Let me give you a practical example; one that has guidelines you can use immediately that help you explore and learn who you are. 

After my accident, doctors were very candid with me, that my life would be different; that I should not expect to be able to do all the things I could do before and that they could not predict if I’d have major complications as I got older. Each doctor had a different way to discuss my restrictions of what I could or could not do.

I could have taken their words as hard fast rules – permanent in nature – and created a list of all the things I couldn’t do. Instead, what I did is take the information the doctors provided and made guidelines instead of rules. Rules to me can’t be broken and are rigid in nature. Rules limit you from the very start.

This was my first big lesson on sifting through information you receive from others – who have your best intentions at heart – and using what was helpful and throwing out what wasn’t. Not letting – in this case the doctors – words limit or define me; rather, creating the guidelines that would help me navigate through especially since now I would need to adjust because my life would be different. 

My fences were simple:  

  • I have to try first and not immediately say No, I can’t do that
  • If I have pain then I need to either stop or find an alternate way to do something
  • If I could not do the range of motion I needed to stop and not force (this is mostly for my arm – as my arm does not obtain full range of motion)

How does this translate to something you can use immediately?

1. Learn to take information in; review and use what works for you and toss out anything that doesn’t resonate with who you are and what you are trying to accomplish in your life

2. Create guidelines rather than rules for your life. Guidelines provide you flexibility and ability to experiment to find what works best for you

3. Figure out your guideline for try first and not immediately say No, I can’t do that

While my story today is about physical ability; the example doesn’t apply only to physical movement.

This guideline covers me when I’m faced with doing something new or getting out of my comfort zone. It’s come in handy when I’m facing fear, imposter syndrome or the need to do things perfectly. I can’t just say no, I have to at least try

4. Determine your fences or guide posts – what will be the things that help you determine if you stop or do something another way

In this example the fence was easy for me to identify. If I was in pain or beyond the range of motion I can achieve, I had to stop. Let me be clear, this wasn’t about ignoring doctors’ orders. For example, I couldn’t start physical therapy until I was cleared to do so. This was about when doctors used words like you probably won’t be able to do XYZ. I didn’t take them at their word for those things without at least trying first.

In other cases, my fence to determine if I stop or if say no (yes there are times that no without trying is the correct decision for me) are my values. I ask myself: Is it within my values? Is it helping me to be the best version of myself? 

Bottom line the goal of the fence you create is to keep you safe and healthy. This is different for each of us and only you can determine what your fences are.

5. Experiment, practice, learn and adjust. Guidelines are not fixed in stone. They are flexible and can be changed as you receive new information, learn and grow.

While these fences started for a physical limitation, today, I apply them to most aspects of my life. Looking back at the last 25 years, I can honestly say, if I would have taken what the doctors said and made their restrictions hard rules, I would not have had the adventures or done half the things I do today. Trying is always better than allowing words or others define who you are or what is possible for you.

I’ll say it again. Changes that happen in your life do not define you. Only you can define who you are. Define yourself by your values, skills, characteristics, hopes, dreams, what’s important to you, what you stand for and what you are passionate and not the things you have. Only you can define who you are – no-one else!

In the end the person who is the expert in YOU, is YOU.


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