A popular notion nowadays holds that who you are matters more than what you do. That has a nice sound to it. But are things really that simple?
In an age of egregious violations of moral and ethical standards, it’s natural to focus on the issue of character and its role in how we conduct our lives. Nothing wrong with that! Without question, character matters.
Indeed, giftedness without character is like an uncontained fire. It will certainly produce spectacular heat—but in a very destructive way.
So one’s inner life counts. It counts a great deal!
But unfortunately, some people swing the pendulum too far in the opposite direction. They act as if all that counts is what’s on the inside: “It’s not what you accomplish that counts, but what sort of person you are,” they say.
I disagree. Not because who you are doesn’t count, but because being versus doing is a false dichotomy. The truth is, humans are “be-ers” and “do-ers” at one and the same time. That’s what the phenomenon of giftedness reveals. It shows us that “who you are” is meaningless apart from “what you do,” because “what you do” expresses “who you are.”
Have you ever heard someone say, “We’re called human beings, not human doings”? That’s clever. But it’s nonsense! It’s impossible to know who someone is until they do something.
I mean, you can insist all day long that you’re a kind person. But it’s only when I see you pausing to help a confused elderly gentleman use his cell phone that I have any basis to conclude, “Wow, she’s certainly kind.” Conversely, if you drive like a maniac and cut people off, then I will conclude, “No, she’s really not kind at all.”
Either way, doing expresses one’s being.
The Power of Story
For proof of that, just pick up any biography. Biographies by their nature attempt to answer a “being” question: Who is (or was) this person?
Biographies do that by telling stories that show the person in action—what they do and how they do it. By that means, we come to understand how the person sees life, what matters to them, how they handle conflict or adversity, what things they take advantage of, what their strengths are, what characteristics they lack, who they need around them in order to flourish, and of course what they accomplish.
Biographies are exceedingly powerful at getting to the heart of what a human being is all about. That’s because the best way to understand a person is through story. Every human is an actor in a dynamic narrative that is playing out over time. So if we want to understand any given person, the best way to do it is to learn their story.
That’s why the best way to understand your giftedness is through your story. Except that instead of just looking at things that have happened to you, the secret is to look at things you yourself have done—especially the activities you’ve enjoyed doing.
I’ve created an exercise for doing that called Discovering Your Giftedness: A Step-by-Step Guide, available at no cost on The Giftedness Center’s website. If you’ve been struggling with the question of being—who am I?—working through that process will give you some valuable insights that you’ll never gain by naval-gazing.
Question: Imagine someone writing a biography about your life. What would a reader conclude about who you “are”?
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