When someone says to you: “Tell me about yourself.” How do you respond?
Most of us take this to mean the trifecta: What do you do? Are you married? Do you have kids?
The interesting thing about how we respond to these lines of questioning is that our responses almost invariably describe our pasts.
I am married (Read: 10 years ago, I took a vow to another person.)
I have 3 kids (Read: Over the past several years, I have given birth to three humans.)
I am an attorney (Read: I went to law school 15 years ago.)
I don’t know about you but who I am today is only a small fleck of the person I was 10 or 15 years ago. All of those responses describe our past actions. Our past selves. None of this is who we are today.
What if you had to answer that question but could not reference your past in doing so? What would your response be?
What gets really interesting is when we take it one step further:
I like to read.
I am not good at basketball.
I am an introvert.
I don’t like to be in large crowds.
I am not a good dancer.
I like to snow ski.
All of these things we use to describe ourselves we treat as factual. As if they just are. But in reality, these things describe our past experiences. Our past likes and dislikes. Our past successes and failures.
I used to like to wear my brother’s clothing and I never wore makeup.
That is not the case anymore! I have changed, and my likes/dislikes and self-expression have changed as well.
So often in our lives we drag our pasts with us in ways that we don’t even recognize:
I’m not good with relationships (because I am divorced)
I am not good at public speaking (because I had a really bad experience at a conference 2 years ago)
I don’t really like to try new sports (because I broke my ankle snowboarding for the first time)
Whatever it is we are telling ourselves and others about ourselves is often past-focused. We look to our past to describe who we are. To define ourselves. We look to our past to forecast our future self:
In the past I had a bad relationship and so that means I am bad with relationships today and will be in the future. I’ve tried, and it didn’t work out so that’s just my lot.
When you do this, when you look to your past to describe who you are today, you are investing in your past failures and limitations. You are looking to those past experiences to create your future.
For instance, so often people identify themselves by what they do for a living. That characterizations can limit how we see ourselves today and in our future. Who cares if I became an attorney decades ago? That has no bearing whatsoever on who I am now and where my future is going! So what if you didn’t go to college?! That has nothing to do with whether you will go to college next week, so why bother bringing it up? What you wanted to do for a living when you were in your 20s is irrelevant today.
When crafting your future, do not limit your dreams to what you have accomplished in the past, it will only limit you. Your past is no indication of who and what you can be tomorrow, next week, next year.
We carry our pasts with us like the contrails from a plane. Stop doing that! That doesn’t exist anymore unless you let it. Don’t look to your past to define yourself today and envision your future. It is irrelevant data. The only thing that matters is what you want in your future; that has nothing to do with where you have been.
The next time someone says to you “Tell me about yourself,” I hope that you will pause and consider the question anew. Don’t limit who you are by what you did 5, 10, 15 years ago. Let your past rest and start creating the person you want to be today.
Every. Single. Day. Is an opportunity to create the life and the person you want to be.