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Who Are You Really?

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stokes

I’ve shared my story here before, but if you haven’t caught it, here’s the CliffsNotes: I was a poor, white-trash kid growing up in trailer parts with stains on my jeans and T-shirts. Not super glamorous, and you can imagine the type of messaging I got growing up. There weren’t a whole lot of people around me who went on to be super successful or lead a different type of life. It’s really not at all surprising that, for the first half of my adult life, I was a poor, white-trash shop owner still living in a trailer, just barely getting by. That’s the story I was told. That’s who I was told I’d become. And it’s exactly who I became—until I got real with myself.

It’s funny, when I think back to that time, I’m not even sure I realized I was stuck. I think that happens with a lot of shop owners, actually. You believe you are who you’re supposed to be, and that’s it. A teacher tells you as an eight-year-old that you’re not good at math, and boom—you don’t believe you can read a P&L. Your business hardly made it through the 2008 recession, so—of course—COVID will drive you into the gutter. Never mind that there are tons of people across the country making due and working—it’s just not my lot in life to be one of those lucky few.

Your personal self-image will dictate the success you have available, and until you wipe that fog off the mirror and see yourself as you really are, it’s difficult to flip that switch.

One of the toughest lessons I had to learn, but easily the most impactful, is that your past does not dictate your future. It doesn’t. I’ve had to learn a lot about forgiveness in life: forgiveness toward parents, employees, relationships. It’s easy to say, “Well, they’re always going to be this way. There’s no point in trying.” Trust me, I’ve had that mindset countless times. But, what is that belief actually based on? Is it based on the truth, or my perception of those people? After a while, I realized that, not only am I not a fortune teller, but that all I was actually doing was setting my expectations low and preparing for the worst to mask my fear of getting hurt.

People don’t like fear and they don’t like being scared, so they don’t change. That’s been made all too clear this year. COVID has revealed so many inner fears and assumptions about success—or lack thereof. Why do so many of us assume we’ll fail? Why are so many of us programmed to believe we don’t deserve success?

That’s an intense question to reckon with, and it’s probably why we’ll do just about anything to distract ourselves and mask that fear. We get ourselves addicted to all kinds of things just so we don’t have to deal with ourselves. We get addicted to cortisol for stress, caffeine for energy, nicotine to calm down. It’s a constant loop and one that allows us to run on that same hamster wheel over and over again without asking ourselves why we’re even on it.

That’s the first step, honestly: becoming aware of our surroundings. Some people are so disconnected from themselves and detached from their personal development that they can’t even find the mirror to hold up to themselves. If I can make someone aware of his or her surroundings and how he or she is perceived, we can identify that broken feedback loop and move into a new phase of life.

One of the big ways that you can get someone to see themselves differently than they did before is to understand how people perceive them. Marriage is a mirror. Children are a mirror. Friends, family, business—they’re all mirrors. When someone sees that mirror for the first time and talks about all their perceptions and fears, and they actually hear themselves, that’s an introduction to personal development right there.

It’s not easy, by the way. It takes a level of humility and checking your ego at the door that a lot of people can’t handle. If a friend says you’re trustworthy but not reliable, that’s difficult to hear. But instead of arguing, try to listen. If people perceive you that way, it’s true. Perception, after all, is reality. And it’s a great facilitator for change because for once, you’re seeing the world clearly.

I have a saying: Fix the owner, fix the shop. Your mindset is almost undoubtedly responsible for your results. It’s not the pandemic. It’s not your spouse. It’s not your employees. It’s you.

So, think back to 2008 for a moment. What if, instead of accepting a similar fate for this year, you took everything you learned from that period and instead became smarter and stronger? What if you tried something different? What if you took surviving The Great Recession as a badge of honor, and a vote of confidence for getting through COVID? To steal from Henry Ford: Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.

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