Let’s take this question up a notch: Who would I be if I were free of my own and other people’s expectations?

We all play different roles in life. We are like actors on stage wearing different masks to different performances. The range of roles may evolve over our lives as we take on different responsibilities (studying, work, leadership positions….) or move through different phases (marriage, parenthood, retirement, grief….). We largely act and behave in ways the world expects of us. Those who don’t are viewed as outsiders.

And yet, we have probably all experienced the real freedom that comes from being somewhere nobody knows us. We can be whoever we want. I know people who dress in different ways. Some behave in ways they would never allow themselves in their ordinary environment. Others shed their past and tell new stories about themselves.

There are hints of physical freedom from being somewhere different. And yet, of more particular interest here, is the emotional, spiritual and moral freedom that comes from not being on stage as much. There is an ease that comes from not performing. From not hiding certain parts of ourselves.

Why do we force ourselves to continually perform?

Historically, being part of a group was essential for our survival. Outsiders died from lack of food and shelter. We are therefore hardwired to want some level of external approval from the groups to which we belong. In many ways, they define who we are. Without them, who are we?

Almost everyone plays this game, defining those around us through how we interact and engage with them. We ensure they stay within acceptable bounds, that they act in ways with which we are comfortable.

The first step is therefore acknowledging what we are doing to others and how we are responding to them. It is acknowledging that tension between personal desires and social pressures.

The second step is freeing ourselves from this weight of expectations. Who is your ideal self? When are you most at ease with yourself? Which self would you take with you on a desert island?

Let’s play. Imagine for a moment you could start afresh.

  • Who would you stop being?
  • What would you stop doing?
  • What would you do more of?
  • Who might you become?

Questions in the Image:

  • Who do I feel I need to be?
  • What if I could start fresh?
  • Who might I decide to be?

Want to Read More Around This Topic?

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley (link to Amazon.co.uk). The novel explores how people might change when they reveal their true selves to others.

Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day. A whole series of tasks to be done bring forth the question of What is important now? Immediately, two of the tasks jump out as being that bit more important. Others feel like they need to be simplified. Just taking a few moments to ask such questions throughout our day helps embed a questioning mindset.

What Thoughts Would You Like to Share? My name is Tom O’Leary, and I envision a world in which curiosity shapes leadership. In this world, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning. My mission is to shift leadership focus from authority, over-measurement and control to curiosity, learning and innovation, empowering leaders to prioritise the essential. My journey, lived in a number of countries and through various languages, has always been driven by a profound sense of curiosity. In fact, life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential. I welcome your thoughts, feedback, or personal experiences related to these questions or any insights they may have sparked.