the essence of what makes you unique



No one in the world was ever you before, with your particular gifts and abilities and possibilities. — Joseph Campbell

In the movie FIGHT CLUB – maybe you’ve heard of it – a character tells his disciples, in a tone of righteous fury, “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake! You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all a part of the same compost pile.”

He got that half-right.

Perhaps it’s a symptom of a narcissistic culture that we seem to equate unique with “be the same as everybody else, just in a better, superior, award-winning kind of way”. When this kind of conformity/competition becomes our main focus, we, perhaps ironically, tend to end up feeling more alone.

We say to each other, If everybody is special, nobody is special! If everybody gets a trophy, nobody gets a trophy!

Not to knock competition – it has its place – but maybe we’re missing the point.

We are lousy at separating essence from ego. We ignore the former. We stroke the latter.

“Among the things I’ve noticed in working with people through the years is that a majority of them never really take the time to discover what is unique about themselves,”

writes author/speaker/teacher Caroline Myss.

“People invest enormous energy in exploring their feelings but seldom put that same time and energy into exploring their potential talents. Rather, they often decide in an instant that they have no talent – or at least none worth developing – and that’s the end of the discussion. Discovering your original form of expression requires a bit more effort, however.”

I like the phrase original medicine, which indigenous cultures use to refer to our personal mix of attributes and abilities. (I also like Nilofer Merchant’s word ‘onlyness’.) In her excellent book TRANSFORMATIONAL SPEAKING, Gail Larsen emphasizes the importance of knowing and accepting your original medicine, which is key to “personal power, strength and understanding.” But coming to terms with your own originality isn’t something that happens just by showing up (whether they give you a trophy or not).

Your ‘original form of expression’, as Myss refers to it, has to be excavated amid a culture that constantly pressures us to fit into its own agenda.

It must be revealed to yourself, and then artfully communicated to the people it serves best.

That’s the work.

A major component of your original medicine is what Tim Kelley identifies as your ‘essence’. It is the aspect of you, your presence and person, that doesn’t do but simply is. Perhaps because of this, we tend to be unconscious of it, even as it has a “subtle and pervasive” effect on everyone we encounter, everywhere we go.

Kelley writes:

“Imagine that you were born with a bright red lightbulb on top of your head, shining all the time….[You walk into a room and someone says] “Wow, it just got red in here.” Since everything you have ever seen has been under a bright red light, you don’t even know what red looks like. You have no contrast by which to understand and describe ‘red’. But other people do, because they can see the difference between when you are present and when you are not.

Essence operates just this way.”

The way to learn about your essence is to ask people what you bring to a room, what they feel or sense just being around you that they don’t experience around other people (or at least not in the same way).

I started this exercise with two of my closest girlfriends. We did it separately and compared the results. It was interesting to see the overlap: different words, maybe, but they seemed to be describing the same things.

Girlfriend #1

Culture + social grace
Intelligent, analytical
Poised social catalyst

Girlfriend #2

Cheeky empathic dramatic
Charming, earthy

Girlfriend #3

Depth, mystique, striking
Intense, probing, sensitive
creative fluidity

When you understand your essence, you start to understand the story you’re telling just by showing up. You can think of ways to make it work for you – or realize how it might be working against you. Your essence is like a door that opens on the work of your soul, or what Kelley calls your true purpose. When you see who you are, you start to know what you can do – and how it connects to something bigger than yourself.

The glorious paradox of onlyness is that it sets you apart even as it connects you to others. You radiate, and resonate: neon vibes rippling out across the web.

Tweet: When you understand your essence, you start to understand the story you’re telling just by showing up.

Feb 23, 2014

2 comments · Add Yours

Indeed. Everyone knows their essence. Some forget. The rest …want to.


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