Monday, October 6, 2008

Our (Almost) Sacred Identity

So here’s the story as I heard it:

A “guy” is walking down the street in Sag Harbor, New York with his thirteen year old daughter. They’ve just spent a wonderful day together and, as had been their custom for many years, were on their way to get ice cream as completion for the ideal father—daughter experience.

The “guy” is very happy to have had this special time with his daughter and he absent-mindedly begins singing aloud. She promptly grabs his arm and in an urgent whisper says “Daddy be quiet! You’re embarrassing me!” (remember, she’s thirteen)

So far, the story sounds typical and could have happened to any parent, right? It has certainly happened to me. My daughters even bought me a bumper sticker that read “I embarrass my children.” And no, I did not put it on my car.

But “the guy” in this story was multi-platinum album selling singer Billy Joel.

We all understand the teenager’s response. But, what about her Father’s? Did he understand with a smile and become quiet? Did he sing louder “just for fun?” Or did he react badly given his fame and pride in his ability to sing?

We all carefully construct an identity that serves our needs – especially our need for social approval. One value of doing this is that we don’t need to repeatedly ask ourselves who we are. We have our identity. Events and circumstances in my life a few years ago combined to give the identity I had carefully constructed some serious shocks. It was not fun … and it turned out to be an incredibly valuable learning experience for me. You already know the drill: I discovered that essentially I was not the identity I had adopted and that it had been limiting my full self-expression and full participation in my own life.

Transformational leader Werner Erhard once said to me that “the only purpose of the mind is to insure the survival of the ego, the identity.” My observation is that whenever we step outside that identity, no matter how pleasurable it might temporarily be, the mind begins to work full time to return us to safety, to the identity it is comfortable being. Absent a transformational shift our tendency is to stay within a narrow range of human experience. Yet, it seems to me that the “bonus years” are those lived outside that niche, outside of “normal,” out in, dare I say it, extraordinary territory.

Oh ….. to complete the story …... unfortunately, Billy Joel chose the react and do damage to the relationship choice. It took him some reflection and coaching plus a year of his life to make it right with this most important person in his life.

What identity are you protecting? What are the prices and rewards of holding on to it?

Just thought I’d ask.

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