I was 14 or 15 years old when my religious education teacher, Mrs Evans, said that we were going to use the whole hour to have a debate, something that was completely new to us.
Mrs Evans then asked me to sit in her chair at the front of the class to lead the debate, explaining that my job was to invite people to speak, invite countering opinions and generally steer the thing while making sure people were heard.
I was a quiet kid in school, never one of the cool kids, so I did it happily and dutifully.
I don’t remember the details, but I remember the time flying by. I remember how I read the room and made the tiniest gesture to let someone know they were next up to speak. I remember how I got to speak to the cool kids in class who I’d never normally talk with, and I remember listening to what was being said and asking questions to drive things forwards. I remember the room trusting me to sit in that chair.
I was in my element
Mrs Evans asked me to chair a debate once more after that.
She never asked anyone else.
Now, as far as I can remember nobody died or was horrifically disfigured during the course of these debates, but perhaps I’d done such a bad job that she swore on great Caesar’s ghost to never let a pupil of hers chair a class debate ever, ever again.
Either that, or she was trying to show me something
It was only years later when I became a coach that this memory made any kind of sense to me, and I think Mrs Evans was trying to make me see that I had an in-built ability to engender trust and work with people, something I’ve applied continually over the last 12 years. (That’s my best guess anyway; maybe she just wanted to take a nap.)
It took me a long time to figure that out, and with hindsight it’s easy to recognise a piece of who you are or where you fit. But does knowing who you are only work in reverse?
What if it was possible to see those things in yourself right now?
How many times in your life have you got clear on a piece of who you are, what you’re great at and what matters to you more than anything, only for that to gently, slowly, imperceptibly slip away from you?
Next thing you know, you’re back to wondering who you are, what you should be doing and where you fit.
I have a pretty good view into myself, having been coached over the years and nurturing a healthy self-awareness made all the more necessary by ongoing illness. But there are things in me I’m unaware of, unexplored areas that might take a few more years to see clearly.
Maybe life is supposed to be a continuing quest to explore this territory, like the Starship Enterprise’s job was to “explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations and to boldly go…“
Knowing who you are is a journey, and I think that the mysteries of this journey are supposed to be revealed along the way rather than just waiting there for you to get your act together and see them already.
Life isn’t something you can cram for
But I also think that it’s possible to not only see some of the clues, some of those golden threads that form who you are and where you fit, but to apply them before you might be fully aware of them.
What if you could use those pieces that make you wonderfully and extraordinarily you, before enough time rolls by to give you enough hindsight to see them clearly?
Just like Mrs Evans pulled out of me in that class debate.
This ain’t easy though.
I think there are 2 parts to it.
1. Staying open
I could have refused to chair that class debate and that would have been that. If I’d been too shy, too self-conscious or even too set in my ways then I never would have been open to it. I’d have missed out. I could even have closed that door permanently.
Fortunately for me I wasn’t shy or self-conscious, and I had a real inkling that it might be fun.
I think that the pieces that make you wonderfully and extraordinarily you vibrate like crystal. I think they give you signals about what’s fun, what’s fascinating or what’s fundamental.
Those signals are there; your job is to be open to them.
If I’d expected things to go a certain way, or had rigid thoughts about what I should or shouldn’t do during that debate I could easily have got myself into knots and screwed things up badly.
But I remember just going with it. Just playing.
Playing without expectation of an outcome or how the experience needed to be.
This, I think, is completely, utterly and wonderfully vital.
If, through staying open and playing, you get to see more of who you are and where you fit, isn’t it extraordinarily important that you start?
How good are you at knowing who you are or where you fit?