“Who do you think you are?”

It’s a strange question, one that typically puts us off and leaves us wondering how we may have offended the other person, misjudged the situation, or come off as a bit over-confident.

And that’s because the question “Who do you think you are?” tends to feel like a challenge.

But what if it IS a challenge?

I’d like to invite you to take this challenge, to consider how you view yourself and how that image might impact how you show up.

For starters… what words would you choose to describe yourself?


Does it depend on the day? Probably. Because we humans are not the same every day or even every hour. Our moods, energy levels, and motivation fluctuate. Some days we feel pretty good, empowered even, while other days feel like a struggle. It’s the human condition. Add to the mix the fact that, no matter what industry you work in, you deal with daily stressors that emerge from industry conditions as well as the climate within your organization.

But believe it or not, the answer to the question “Who do you think you are?” has less to do with those stressors than it does with your inner dialogue, the thoughts you choose, and the thoughts you choose to believe. The words you use to describe yourself kick around in your subconscious brain and inform your sense of self, whispering in your ear whenever stressors emerge (and sometimes even when they don’t). In those moments, “Who do you think you are?” matters.

The thoughts you choose can cheer you on or hold you back.

If you choose the harsh word, the unkind thought, the descriptor that beats you up and leaves you bleeding—and then choose to believe it—you can end up draining your self-esteem and feeling crappy in your skin, which in turn can impact the way you show up. A study published by the NIH found that self-esteem is a determining variable on employee behavior both inside and outside the workplace that affects performance, satisfaction, commitment, turnover, work motivation, and even civic behavior (Campbell, 1990; Pierce & Gardner, 2004).

It might even leak into your personal life, leading to irritability, alienation, isolation, or damage to relationships.

So, if you feel like you’re on a hamster wheel of holding yourself to an external standard of success (maybe one based on money and status) but are constantly faced with feelings of inadequacy, you might want to work on changing the inner voice.

To spend some time focusing on who you really think you are.

A good way to start is by noticing your own thoughts and connecting dots around why you choose them. Your brain is programmed to fire based on your unique inventory of life experiences. And while we would prefer to focus on experiences that were positive and nurturing, we’re wired to remember the negative ones a bit more. It’s biological; remembering where the tiger lived kept us alive, so coding those negative experiences into our brains became a crucial part of our species’ survival.

What early life experiences might have left an imprint on your brain? Consider the things that got you excited as a child that maybe were criticized by friends or family. The sideways comment Uncle Arnold made during the holiday meal when you shared your dream of being a novelist. Or maybe a memory of your freshman year professor who suggested you might want to change your major.


The activity isn’t about blaming or shaming. It’s about enlightening ourselves by figuring out our own wiring and thought patterns.

“Really?” you may be asking. “My childhood? That’s all in the past. I’m over it.”

Not so fast.

Yes, all of our childhood experiences are indeed in the past. But that doesn’t erase them. The ones that felt hurtful, minimizing, or humiliating are stored in your nervous system and rear their heads from time to time, particularly if you’re confronting a stressful or difficult situation.

In his groundbreaking 2014 book, The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk wrote, “Whatever happens to a baby contributes to the emotions and perceptual map of the world that its developing brain creates… If you feel safe and loved, your brain becomes specialized in exploration, play, and cooperation; if you are frightened and unwanted, it specializes in managing feelings of fear and abandonment.”

There’s a reason this book is STILL on the New York Times bestseller list.

Collectively, your early experiences become the filter through which you experience your life. Like an app running in the back of your brain, or an AI machine feeding information based on your unique life journey algorithm. Those experiences may very well lay dormant for a long time, for years, maybe, until something pokes the bear. Maybe when you miss the Q4 target or the project deadline. Maybe when the audit results are dodgy, and you have to review a laundry list of irregularities with the department head who thinks everything is going swimmingly. Maybe when you miss quota and you’re no longer a top producer on your team.

Interestingly, that app can also get activated when you hit the target, close the deal, nail the pitch. Which leaves you confused and unsure of why you don’t feel as awesome as you expected to. Which may result in you losing some of your motivation for the next round of goals or performance metrics. You might even choose the thought, “Maybe I’m just not cut out for this,” and believe that thought.

The playwright Eugene Ionesco said, “It isn’t what people think that is important, but the reason they think what they think.” Ionesco was best known for his work in the French avant-garde theater, in something that was coined the Theater of the Absurd.

The parallels can’t be ignored. How would you describe the process of choosing and believing negative thoughts that are likely based on fictional narratives, if not absurd?

Early in her career, a teenage Barbra Streisand was described by critics as an “amiable anteater,” a “furious hamster,” a “seasick ferret.” It was only a year later, after her performance in Funny Girl, that the descriptors changed to “a Babylonian queen” and “an ancient oracle.” In her biography, My Name is Barbra, she writes, “Imagine that. Just a thought, very quiet, could change things. Maybe imagination could create reality. Maybe I could imagine being an actress, and actually become one. Even though my mother kept saying, ‘Don’t get your hopes up.’ I knew I didn’t look like those other girls in the movies. I’m not sure if she told me, ‘You’re not pretty enough to be a movie star.’ But I knew that was what she meant.”

What would have happened had Barbra chosen to believe those early descriptors? Or maybe the better question is, what would NOT have happened?

What absurd thought are you choosing and believing right now? What would happen if you chose differently?

I’m not suggesting that changing thoughts is easy. What I am suggesting is that each of you has the power right now to do it. It starts with noticing your thoughts and spending some time figuring out where they came from. Then practicing changing them.

Every thought is a possibility.

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