In “Self Matters” (Free Press, 2001), Dr. Phil McGraw asks readers to identify the five most pivotal people in their life; people, who for better or worse, played a major role in their decisions and direction. Simply enough…or so I thought.
There are three things that I find difficult to resist: bubble gum machines, divination tools (horoscopes, etc), and the self-help tests found in most women’s magazines. To be sure, the attraction is strictly for entertainment purposes, however, every once in a while I am struck by the glimmer of hope or truth provided by the tools of my leisure: I believe that I have found favor with the gods of confection when I offer my quarter to a bubble gum machine and it rewards me with a bright yellow gum ball; I find delight in the occasional accuracy of my daily horoscope; and I am relieved when my serious answers to trivial questions prove me to be slightly above the fray of other magazine subscribers.
Imagine my surprise upon realizing that I had “failed” Dr. Phil’s very simple examination.
With pen and paper in hand I listed my “Fab 5”:
*My Mother: very few of us would dare to attempt this type of cerebral inventory without including our mothers. I wrote down her name remembering every recital, softball game, hospital visit, and award ceremony that found her present and accounted for when no one else was willing or able to be;
*My Father: his inclusion on my list muddles my emotions, but the truth is that he is responsible for a number of the “pivots” in my life both good and bad;
*My Son: since his conception, he has been the insurance and assurance that keep me from throwing in the towel. I see his face when life captures me unaware; and his image is in full view when I am looking for evidence of success in the mirror that is my life;
*J.P.: my first corporate mentor. Polished, professional and exceedingly demanding, she regularly placed me in positions outside of my comfort zone and, by providing necessary boundaries and creative latitude, helped me to soar; and
*M.D (b.1953-d.2009): “Mr. D” and I became best friends a year before we ever met in person. He was the first to help me recognize that I wanted my PhD. and a writing career more than corporate success. He also showed me all that was equitable, respectful and loving among true friends.
Sufficiently proud of my record of personal influence, I turned the page of my assignment to receive my perfect score for my noble exercise. My score was not perfect, however. In grading my own work, Dr. Phil compelled the obvious reason for my failing grade: I had excluded my own influence from my own life; my name was not on my own list:
“Your self concept has been molded by others. You attribute your most basic, core characteristics to the actions and behaviors of others. For better or worse, you have yielded your power and entrusted it to someone else”. (McGraw, 2001)
Not being accustomed to failing a test, I was stunned and disappointed to realize that, despite my best efforts toward the contrary; I was leaving myself out of my own life, and hiding behind a veil of well-rehearsed albeit, imaginary resolve and autonomy.
This was an arduous, but redeemable truth.
I have since issued and responded to the invitation of inclusion in my own life. I have welcomed myself with open arms. My name is now the first inscribed on the parchment that is my life’s influence; not because it is the “right answer”, but because I am the necessary inspiration, impact, excitement and expectation of my existence.
The honor of my presence is requested…and required.