Most people have trouble answering this question.

Who are you?

The difficulty in answering this question comes from having to select a sentence or two which would attempt to describe ourselves. Pretty impossible, right? Because you know that you are a complex person with so many layers and experiences. So how do we even begin to get a sense of ourselves in order to know who we are?

This quote which sounds more like a riddle, is the basis of what’s called the “Looking Glass Self” and might help you start to know who you really are.

“I am not what I think I am. I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am”.- Charles Horton Cooley

Cooley was a sociologist and through his theories developed the notion that we come to understand our sense of who we are from our interactions with others in society.

  • You imagine how you appear to the other person.
  • You imagine the judgment of the other person.
  • You feel some sense of pride, happiness, guilt, or shame.

William James, a psychologist, expanded Cooley’s idea of self to include reflection on your own behavior. We have the capacity to integrate other people’s views in order to build, change and maintain our self-image. So our view of who we are is influenced by interactions throughout our lives. This involves how we see ourselves and how others see us.

So why am I talking about these theories, and sociologists and psychologists? Because once you know this information you can see how it effects you in your every day life. For instance, if your boss calls you in to talk about some work you’ve done. They might point out some areas that you need to work harder on or fix. In the boss’s mind they’re giving you one on one attention and taking their time to help guide you to be successful.

However, if you hear you boss wants to talk to you and you immediately assume they disappointed in your work, or annoyed that they have to go over things with you then you’re likely to leave that interaction feeling defeated and embarrassed maybe ashamed.

If we look at that Cooley quote again, I am not what you think I am (because the boss thinks they’re being helpful. They may think you’re a strong competent employee) I am what I think you think I am. Your perception is your truth and is going to determine how you feel and act. But because it’s your perception there is room for error and mistakes. In the case of this example you might avoid your boss for a few days because you’re ashamed and the boss feels like you didn’t appreciate their feedback so they’re less likely to help you out in the future.

Boom! You’ve just made your life more difficult by not having your boss on your side and not being open to help.

So how do you stop getting in your own way? You start by challenging all those negative thoughts and assume people are generally positive or neutral towards you until proven otherwise. If you assume your boss was helpful you would have shown appreciation and they would probably be more likely to help you out again in the future.

When we assume the best of others we pull for their best qualities and when we are a person who surrounds ourselves with positive people we are therefore more happy and successful.