And nobody. What “I” think of as “me” is somewhere between a process and a journey, not a product. There is no “I” in the sense that the past happened to some other person at a point in the universe which no longer exists; and the very next moment everything enters a new physical space which renders the present as past. Growth or change relies on accepting this truth.
When I first meet people, they want to “get right down to business,” talking about exercise or diet or orthopedic problems. I’ll try to slow them down with my first and most important question: who are you?
We’ll get to workouts and eating habits and injuries. But how did you become the person you are today? It’s an imprecise question as described in my opening paragraph. Yet that foundation is critical to how you should approach exercise, nutrition, and pain management. The question to discover that foundation most often strikes people as unexpected. Their response of surprise strikes me as having low self-awareness.
As people tell their stories, I pay close attention to the types of words they use, and the perspective or themes that arise in their personal narratives. I want to know how this person defines himself or herself, and how they approach effort.
When I turn it around, and explain who I am, I make an effort to describe the journey I’ve travelled in life all the while pointing out that THAT isn’t “who I am.” Titles and experiences and roles and rites of passages and monikers and names are our futile attempts to slap permanence on that which is fundamentally impermanent. None have any objective value.
Once, while talking about adding certain increasingly authoritative credentials to my list of accomplishments, a client of mine said, “Jonathan, most of the time I’ve found that people aren’t set free by a suffix but enslaved by it.” He’s a medical doctor. I heard a very similar sentiment from another client who is a double PhD from a revered school, an Alzheimer’s researcher with some impressive published papers. When I’ve coached dietitians and physical therapists and notable lawyers, at some point, they all say something similar.
Most accurately, “I” was just a guy who learned some things, made some mistakes, and listened in order to endeavor to improve, not by any brag of my own, but all by the grace of God and the support of people around me. Where was this effort made? Professionally, in health and fitness. Personally, in many domains of life. Who AM I? No one. Nothing. And nobody. Where am “I” going? On a path influenced by someone who was just a guy who learned some things, made some mistakes, and listened in order to endeavor to improve, none by any brag of his own, but all by the grace of God and the support of people around him.
THIS is where I’m trying to go with people. Once they can genuinely connect with the fact that they really aren’t a self-made fill-in-the-blank, they can grow. We have all gotten to a moment in time which relied quite heavily on our environment. How many stories have you heard about the person who raised himself by himself in the woods without even a pack of wolves to defend him? Right. People want to think they are “who” they are without help, without others, without giving credit to all which came before. That viewpoint is a problem, since it doesn’t allow for you to become different.
Most succinctly, “who” we want to be is a searcher and a listener. Pause. Think about this. Without those two, we have already found all we will ever find; and we will have already heard all we’ll ever hear. Thus, we will get no more than we’ve already had. And we cannot become any more than we’ve already been.
“I” am nothing.