Who do you think you are?

For what feels like a very long time, especially in my late twenties and well into my thirties, I was asked this question a lot. And every time I was asked it I heard it as an accusation. I heard the question underneath the question: what gives you the right to think you can do this?

Wide-eyed, naive and guilty I would inevitably respond with some stammered version of “I don’t know” or “I’m figuring that out” or “I think it’s this” or “I might be that.” My answer always a plea for mercy from the smallest part of myself.

Strangely, I was only asked the question at times when I was attempting something new, stretching out, exploring new space: maybe with writing or speaking, perhaps with a new workshop design. Unfailingly, the question would be asked of me during conversations with “smart” people about books or movies or politics. It would always be asked in charged meetings where points of view were expected, positions were being staked out.

Always, the question would come.

One day I started to look out for the people who would ask it. I started to wise up and get ready for it because I could predict who it would come from and when. The more I paid attention the more I noticed that the people who would ask this question shared similar qualities; tone of voice, style of dress, demeanor, and even size and shape.

Again and again and again, the people who would ask this question all looked eerily familiar to me.

And then, one day, it hit me. The people asking this question, those judgmental, insensitive, thoughtless, discouraging people were actually only one person in many different guises.

The reason they looked so familiar was that they were me.

DAVID BERRY is the founder of RULE13 Learning. He writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well. If you enjoyed this post someone else might, too. Please pass it along.

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