What is my message (and why does it matter)?
At some point in your life, you need to stand up and be counted for something. How else will people know whether they can trust you?
What is my message? is a question that has an out-sized impact on our lives, even when we aren’t aware of it. We are forced to answer the question in all sorts of ways. It comes up in the essays we write as part of our college applications, where admissions officers strain to figure out which candidates to accept and which to reject. The question raises its head again as we search for jobs after graduation – whether from high school, college, or graduate school – and are faced with the not-so-simple task of expressing who we are on one or two pieces of paper called a resume.
If you succeed in your job, you come face to face with the question again, as you rise through the ranks to a supervisory, or leadership, position. What is your message, then, to the people who work for you? …
… Not, what tasks do you want them to complete, but, rather, why should they follow you, beyond the fact that you’re their boss?
The question slips into our lives on more modest levels as well: for instance, at large social gatherings when you are introduced to people for the first time. Or, at intimate dinner parties, when you are one of only a handful of people, who are thrust together for three or four hours and need to figure out how to keep the conversation going.
In all of these situations, you have a choice. You can try to discern what is important to someone else and tell them what you believe they want to hear. You can supply information you feel is safe and easy for others to digest. Or, you can make a point of finding ways to tell people something about who you are at your core, and risk making yourself vulnerable, if only for a moment.
The fact is that taking the “safe” route isn’t safe at all. Most people, from college admissions directors and would-be friends, to the people who report to you at work, are searching for signs that give them reason to believe that you are someone with integrity — someone they can trust.
This is where identity comes into play — those special characteristics that reveal how you create unique value in the world. Your identity is ‘an integrity machine.’ It expresses what makes you the individual you are. It invites people to trust you.
Hiding what you stand for takes a toll on everyone. It may make it easier for you to navigate business or social relationships that require chameleon-like skills to maintain, but, over time, it erodes your sense of self-worth: you know you’re faking it. Moreover, keeping your true self hidden makes life harder for others by keeping them guessing; off balance, in fact.
Until I faced an auditorium full of people who were interested in the subject of identity, I had kept my message under wraps, at least publicly. For years, I’d lived under the radar. While working with companies and individuals, I knew who I was, and, certainly, I let my passion for identity show in everything I did. Yet, I never had the courage to stand up and be counted. I had let my writings and my work speak for me. Now, I would speak for myself; I would make my message clear: I am Larry Ackerman and I am driven by the need to help people to see. As I spoke these words in that auditorium that day, I exhaled deeply. I felt completely naked as I stood before my audience, knowing there was no going back. I was finally free.
Answering the question, what is my message? Is liberating. It frees you from the fear of telling the world who you are and doing what you know you must. It brings the self-confidence to not be deterred by what others may think of you, even in the face of possible rejection. You may also realize that you no longer have a choice: you must take a stand.
Consider your message a personal declaration — a commitment to follow one path and walk away from others. What makes declarations so powerful is their intent, which, in short, is to remove doubt. It is to make something clear to people that wasn’t clear before. Personal declarations lift the veil of mystery. They state something emphatically about who you are, often, for the first time.
Your identity is the source of that declaration, the essence of your message. It’s a message the world needs to hear.