You decide.

That’s what the 3×5 card taped to my bathroom mirror says. It’s a reminder that what I choose to do with my life and how I choose to live it are just that:  choices.  Choices I get to make every day, every moment.

Or, at least I like to think so.

I recently listened to an episode of Invisibilia, a podcast that has become one of my favorites, that suggested that personality may not be as fixed as we often think it is.  The main story focused on a woman who was doing work in a prison, but felt conflicted when she learned about the violent crimes one of the inmates was doing time for.  She felt confused because she couldn’t line up what she knew from interacting with him with the person she felt he must be to have committed that crime.  She decided to have a conversation with him, to try to understand who he was and how he could be capable of such violence.

What she learned through conversation with him was that he had made a decision to change who he was as a person, and what that required of him was a change in almost everything he was, who he interacted with and everything he did.  Our culture is full of transformation stories, and I believe that anyone is capable of changing themselves for the better at any time.  But I was surprised by the reasons why this man’s change was possible.

He didn’t decide to change himself, he decided to change who he surrounded himself with and that changed him.  He lost all of the friendships he had in prison, changed who he spoke to, what he did, where he spent his time.  He changed his environment, and this is why he was able to change how he acted and who he was.

On the one hand, I was surprised by the theories about personality that I was hearing, but they aren’t new ideas (I’m just not a follower of this type of news).  On the other hand, all of this made sense to me.  In my work as a trainer and a coach there are a few core principles that I hold to.  The main one is that anyone that comes to me is already perfect.  I don’t believe in “fixing” people.  What I mean by that is that I believe everyone possesses everything they need already.  You are already strong, you just need to locate and access that strength so you can use it.  The second principle I follow is that if people are given an encouraging environment and simple tools they will be able to locate and use the amazing gifts within them.

My joke is that I help superheroes find their capes.  The reality is that I actually believe that.

I have never met a broken person, or someone who is hopeless.  I have only met superheroes who are temporarily blind to their own powers.  I mean, just imagine if Superman couldn’t save the world because he was too busy wishing he had blonde hair instead of black.  Or if Spiderman couldn’t show up to rescue someone because he felt bad about being a “skinny little weakling.”

So while I have long believed that our environment can make the difference between realizing our strengths or continuing to look elsewhere for them, hearing this podcast gave me a deeper perspective on that.  If our environment, including the people we surround ourselves with, the ideas we hear and the images we see, can create our personality then we trulybelong to our environment.  Who we are is a part of everyone and everything around us.  And who and what is around us is a part of us as well.

Do you decide who you are?  Like all the good questions, the answer is yes and no.

If you know that everyone else is responsible for who you are, and that you are responsible for who everyone else is, will that change how you relate to those around you?  If you know that your kindness begets kindness, your generosity begets generosity would you be more willing to extend yourself to others?

Elias Gross