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Posted: March 23, 2011

To thine own self be true

First, know yourself -- then decide where you're going

Carol Ratcliffe Alm

Did Shakespeare get it right? It's hard to honor thine own self, if we are not clear about who we are, in both transitions and transactions. Are we our education, salary, or job title? Are we defined by the car we drive, the house we live in, the clothes we wear?

When we are in the question of "What's next"? as a transition about a career, a job or a decision, the imperative is to be true to one's self - FIRST. Almost immediately, we leap frog to "Where am I going"? and "How will I get there"? not taking the opportunity to honor the Shakespearian principle.

In all the years of my corporate experience, coaching practice and strategy facilitation for individuals and organizations, the principle seems to escape us. We most often dive straight to the "what" and the "how" completely by passing the "who" of The Bard's "own self."

While we try out all of those things for identity and self image, the answer to the multiple choice question is none of the above. Who we are is the thoughts and feelings and behaviors that are innate and spontaneous ways of being. In the parlance of The Gallup Organization, these are the talents that we bring to the table.

Talents should not be confused with values, nor are talents based on skills or knowledge. A talent is instinctive, a way of being. It does not require a cognitive process, though we sometimes rationalize our talents through cognition.

At other times, we attempt to outthink our talent or override it based on who we think we should be or should not be.

It is much easier to discern the talents of others than ourselves. We're so used to being us, that we think that everyone is (or should be) organized, detail-oriented, outgoing, thoughtful, driven, competitive or the myriad of other ways we show up in the world.

The uniqueness of the talents we possess seems quite normal rather than a personal signature.

The immediate curiosity becomes what are my talents. Through volumes of literature, psychological assessments and conversations our tendency is to try to make sense out of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

More often, we pay attention to what non-talents are rather than focusing attention on our strengths. We have designed society, corporations, and educational systems, to identify what is wrong rather than what is right about us. More often we spend time and money on remediation, weakness fixing, to bring us up to average rather than leveraging our talents to excellence. No wonder it's difficult to know and understand clearly where our talent lies.

In all the literature, assessments and conversations, which have high validity research based protocol and analysis, the key is to focus on what we do well - not what needs fixing. This focus creates an awareness of where our talent lies.

Correspondingly, when we are clear about our talents then we can build knowledge and practice skills to optimize our choices about "where am I going"? and "how will I get there"?

Unless we start with who we are, our talent(s), our own self, we waste personal and corporate time, energy and money. As we are predisposed to think about what we want to do and how to do it, the answer to any question of what is next does not have the maximum potential of being actualized.

The ROI that begins with who we are as an individual, a company or an employee yields exponential returns

It is a powerful premise and practice to be clear and to be true to thine own self - FIRST
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A coveted strengths-based executive and personal coach, successful business strategist, and acclaimed presenter, Carol Ratcliffe Alm is highly regarded for her coaching outcomes, strategy results and powerful presentations. With more than 30 years in corporate leadership and her consulting practice, she optimizes the talent of individuals and organizations through her presence, skill and the insight of her experience. She has served as Sr. Vice President of the Gallup Organization and Associate Dean of the Daniels College of Business at University of Denver. She may be reached at or

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Readers Respond

This is an outstanding article about the need for to understand your value and what you bring to the corporation/team. If more companies put equity and attention into the power of the individual contributor, imagine how much more dynamic teams would be! Thank you for highlighting this critical (and often overlooked) issue in business. Even in these busy economic times, your message is so important! By Lida Citroen on 2011 03 23

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