Who Are You, Really?

Who Are You, Really?

First things first, so you stop wondering. Yes, the handsome lad on the left is me, age 7. My mom had to deal with eight kids, and I was NOT an easy child to raise. I’m pretty sure the only reason she did not act on her threat (“I swear I’m gonna sell you to the Gypsies next time they pass through,” was a common curse when we behaved badly) was because I was so impossibly cute.

I digress.

We Are Our Stories

In past posts, I’ve shared some of my learning as I explore what it means to be a white Euro-ethnic male in a global system that affords me privilege and power just because of WHAT I am. I believe this is an important journey for me as a Coach, a Leader, and a Happiness expert because those roles require me to be someone WHO is authentic and empathetic.

  • Coach: Knowing and honoring who I am is a pre-requisite to being Authentic, and “seeing” others in their fullness helps me empathize so they feel fully listened to.
  • Happiness: Living more authentically also supports access to Happiness, Joy, Contentment, and other desirable emotions.
  • Leader: There is a direct correlation between people’s perception of “authentic” and the degree to which they feel safety and trust in a relationship.

One consequence of recent social shifts combined with the pandemic and the reorganization of work is that many people have new expectations of both their organization and their direct manager/boss/leader. Before, they considered a great boss an exception and felt lucky to have one. But now, they expect – nay, demand! – a much higher level of authenticity, empathy, leadership competence, care, and attention to their psychological safety.

If the “story” about you as a leader does not fit that expectation, you’re not going to do well in this new reality. You will have to give more attention to who you are as a real, whole person AND be curious about the real, whole person that is everyone on your team.

You see, no one cares about your title. What they care about is how you make them feel. Whether you treat them with dignity and respect. The degree to which you honor all of who they are as human beings, not just their current role. They care about your story.

A Different Story

As I’ve wrestled with my own identity/story/Brand, I was called to participate in a team-building retreat with fellow board members of a global organization that has declared a powerful Stand in the space of Inclusion and Belonging. To prepare for the retreat we had two assignments: to write and share a Cultural Bio and to write an Origin Poem.

While a Professional Biography – what you’ll find on LinkedIn – is useful, it’s generally about WHAT we are, not WHO we are or what made us that. After reading some samples, I tried my own. It took me a few minutes to write, then a week to edit to 125 words or less. How do you explain who you are in such a small space?

So here’s the first exercise. Read this, then the questions that follow.


Skinny white German-Irish kid who grew up in an economically-challenged Catholic and ethnic suburban community with eight siblings, where hand-me-downs was the norm and everyone’s grandparents were “from the old country.” Struggled with both depression and sexual identity. Suicide survivor. Heart-attack survivor. First in his family to graduate university, he built a multi-hued and international family through birth and adoption, learning along the way how to advocate for those with differing abilities. Proud that he has always sought to raise up strong women both in his sons/daughters and in the workplace. Situational vegan. Loves to dance, garden, and curate dark beers. Owns 17 ways to make coffee and loves to talk to strangers.

What shifts for you when you read the above versus my LI profile? Yep, the same thing happened for me relative to my fellow board members. I SEE them in a new context and from a place of vulnerability.

What might happen for you if you were to write and share your Cultural Bio with your team, your boss, your peers? Does the idea excite or terrify you? No judgment, just notice. What does your reaction tell you about how truly open and authentic you are? Need to be?