Gina London: You are who you choose to be, so change is possible
'I t was my brother's wedding and as the best man," my Dublin taxi driver tells me, "I'm supposed to give the toast."
"Now, I'm not a reserved individual. I'm normally outgoing and confident. I'm a national handball champion," he says. "But when I stood up to speak, I suddenly blanked. I couldn't remember a word. I looked down at the notes I was holding but my hands were shaking so much, I couldn't read. I bombed."
That was 21 years ago, he says as the taxi nears my destination. My handball-champion driver says he lives in dread considering that one day in the future he will be expected to give the eulogy at his elderly father's funeral.
Do you label your public-speaking ability or leadership style by a single experience? During the recent Fine Gael debates, one of the candidates stated: "I am what I am" when asked about himself. Are we? Is it that all there is?
"'I am who I am' sounds like a passage from God in the Bible or Popeye in the cartoons," retorts Alan Weiss, PhD, an American thought-leader in career coaching and consulting whom the New York Post describes as "one of the most highly-respected independent consultants in the country" and whom I interviewed via email.
His latest book, co-authored with another notable American executive coach, Dr Marshall Goldsmith, is Lifestorming, Creating Meaning and Achievement in Your Career and Life. Between the two of them they have written more than 100 books on human behaviour.
Your past does not define your future.
When I asked Alan if he wanted to share any Irish experiences he may have had, he wrote: "I love the joy of the Irish and I loved driving through the Northwest.
"But I never had a question answered without the prefix, 'After 800 years' of British oppression'."
I hear that prefix all the time, too. Of course, experiences from our past may be part of our story.
But we can learn from them and move forward. They do not need to define us. We can change.
"Acting in any way and denying the ability to change and alter for the right occasions bespeaks someone who is so completely inflexible and self-centred as to be oblivious to others." Alan says. "Who chooses to be boring?"
I would expand upon that adjective by adding, fearful, or timid, or cynical, or whatever other limiting label we - or perhaps others - may attach to ourselves. We do not have to stay married to it. If a personality label is holding you back, take action to start unloading it now.
You can change.
"Character can be developed. Lifestorming identifies six building attributes which can be improved on with respect to others," Alan says.
"There is no balance between competence and warmth. They are both rheostats. Not on/off switches.
"Leaders are made, not born. Most of the literature shows that the critical feature of successful leadership is flexibility, not some perfect style.
"Machiavelli said that successful people adapt their manner to the times."
Consider a single bold action to reboot your character in a positive way
For instance, I met Alan four years ago, when I was living in Italy. I had read a couple of his books and reached out to him to say how much I appreciated what I had learned.
"If you ever come over here to visit," I tagged, "I'd be delighted to buy you a cup of coffee."
A few months later, he and his wife came over on summer holiday and I caught up with him in the marbled lobby of the Four Seasons in Florence where they were staying.
He didn't take me up on that coffee, but he did give me invaluable advice. Understanding that my inability to speak Italian at a professional level was limiting my ability to properly network and develop my own consulting business, Alan encouraged me to seek out an English-speaking country.
I did. And now, after two years living here in Ireland, it has made a world of difference. I am grateful.
So, to my taxi-driver, don't wait until your father is dearly departed.
Take charge of your fear of delivering a speech in public. Write a rip-roaring eulogy for your dad.
Invite over loads of friends and family. Present your speech to everyone gathered while your dad's alive to hear it.
He'll thank you for it and you will thank yourself for taking the step toward changing your personal outlook.
What about you? What is your limiting label? What can you do today to shed it?
As I keep writing in this column, and Alan Weiss encourages you through his many books: "We are who we choose to be."
Gina London is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist who is now a director with Fuzion Communications. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. Write to her at Sundaybusiness@independent.ie @TheGinaLondon
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