One Simple Exercise to Help Answer the Questions: Where, Who, How am I? As a coach and speaker, I have the deep joy of being asked many questions. While some of the questions are operational in nature, the vast majority of them are the deep, rich, messy ones that deeply matter.
The questions that humans have been asking themselves and each other for millennia.
- Questions that we answer not from without but from within.
- And asking those questions is scary. Terrifying.
- Questions that, in their core, come down to “Where am I?” “Who am I?” and “How am I?”
Because while we are asking these questions of someone else, we are actually asking, to answer them ourselves.
And isn’t that the bunk?
These question – where am I, who am I, how am I – are never finally answered. The answers, like ourselves, are always shifting, growing, deepening, and changing. And often, when these question bubble up within our hearts, it is because we are unclear of what the answers could be.
For example, the first time I was sent to a coach, it was because I was starting to assume aggressive behaviour. Rather than holding my space, in my haste to make change happen, I was violating my colleagues’ space and steamrolling their viewpoints and wisdom with pushy, demanding behaviour.
I thought I was motivating folks to move through the phases of change. Instead, I wasn’t giving them any other option and was also being an utter jerk.
And I had no idea. No. Idea. Zero.
I bet that most of us are like that: blind to a part of ourselves, carrying around an incomplete – maybe even incorrect – understanding of the impact we make on the world.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can simply, easily, and quickly crowd-source a more complete image of how others experience you with a simple exercise: a word-cloud.
Yup, a word-cloud. The word-cloud will never replace your deep wisdom and your intuitive answers to the three questions, but this exercise can help shine some light into a foggy place.
Word-clouds are simple and easy these days. Once upon a time word-clouds required artistic and analytic skills. Now it just takes a free survey platform, like SurveyMonkey or SurveyPlanet, and free account at any number of word-cloud services, wordart, or wordclouds.
Ready, Set, Go. Sounds wild, right?
A word-cloud exercise that helps break through and answer what could be the three most important questions for humankind?
Yeah, I won’t go that far either. But it is wild and it does work to help you get clearer on who you are, where you are, and how you are. So, give this a shot.
The first, and hardest, step is to make a list of people you will contact. In my experience and the experience of my clients, the more comprehensive and inclusive the list, the better (at least 20). Make sure you are reaching out to people from all parts of your life as well as people who love you, tolerate you, and groan when they see you coming.
Give yourself time on this step. Build the list over a couple of days and ask a few people you trust who else could be a good addition.
Yes, it will be very uncomfortable reaching out to people who don’t appreciate you … and if really want to know where you are, who you are, and how you are … get uncomfortable.
Once you have your list, and remember, less than 20 isn’t a list! open a one question survey on the platform of your choice. Something as simple as “Please share three words that describe me.”
Make sure answers are anonymous in the survey settings. You are looking for how others experience you as a whole, not a specific description from one person. Go anonymous.
Craft a simple, straightforward message like:
I’m reaching out to ask for less than two minutes of your time. As part of my coaching/development/reflection, I’m reaching out to people from all parts of my life. I would be grateful if you would click on the link below and answer one question: what three words best describe me.
Please share the first words that come to mind; all answers are anonymous. The survey will close in two weeks. Thank you very much!
Send your email/message individually to the people on your list. Yes, individually. You are asking people for time, so gift them the opportunity to enter into conversation with you.
Put a reminder in your calendar for the day after your survey ends. Try not to peek.
While the survey is running, reflect on how you want to experience the results. Do you want to share the experience with a support person, like a partner, friend, mentor, or coach? Or do you want to be alone? Do you want to see the raw data or just the word cloud?
For example, I want to be alone and I want to see the raw data as well as create the final word cloud. A friend wanted to go through the experience with her therapist. A client wanted me to create the final word cloud. All are valid, so identify what you need.
Make your plan.
Once the survey closes, you (or your surrogate) copies and pastes all the answers into a word document. The only changes made are for spelling.
Then enter that raw data into the word-cloud platform of your choice and watch magic happen.
Whatever the first results are, print them out.
Over the next few days, let the results settle as you experience them. Your first response will most likely not be your response on day five. Give it time.
After a few days, share your word-cloud with someone that you deeply trust (if you haven’t already) and talk through it. Carve at least 15 minutes to talk, be quiet, and share your impression.
Use questions like: what does this word-cloud tell me? What’s new? What surprises me? What comforts me? What angers me? What do I really identify with? How do I feel?
For example, my first word-cloud showed me how my push to “get it done” was hurting people I cared about. I was shocked and I argued with the results for a couple of days before I accepted the insight and say it also within myself. Thankfully, before the behaviour became a habit, I was able to work with my coach to deepen my assertiveness and release the quick-win of aggression.
My last word-cloud threw me for a loop when the most significant result was PASSIONATE. Because I felt anything BUT passionate. I felt tired and lost (which is why I did the cloud!). It was one of many wake up calls that I needed to shift at least one large part of my life.
On the other hand, a client was confirmed through her word-cloud that she was sharing her gift and her purpose with the world, and making the difference she wanted to be making. Instead of changing, her work was to embrace herself in even deeper, holistic ways across all parts of her life.
So, what could your word-cloud share with you? I’m willing to bet that this simple exercise will help clarify the three core questions we all carry with us: where am I, who am I, how am I.
The exercise is simple, the experience is not. But it is worth it. You are worth it. Give it a shot. And then come share your experience.