How many people do you know who, in some way, define themselves or allow themselves to be defined by their job, their home, their car, their social status or some other ‘thing’? 

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My friend, Tony’s grandmother, affectionately known as ‘Nan’, is 109 years old and lives in her family home with her daughter, Tony’s mum. Her heroic approach to life is a constant source of inspiration to those of us who are fortunate enough to know her. 

Now, having overcome the triumphs and tribulations of a very full life, you would expect ‘Nan’ at 109 not to be the fittest player on the park. That said, she is always a player and is rarely to be found spectating on the sideline. Last weekend Tony thought his nan was not looking as well as a few days ago and he asked her if she was unwell. Her reply is an object lesson for all of us. 

She looked him straight in the eye and said

‘I couldn’t be better, its just my body that is letting me down’. Nan

 It is such a powerful statement that I had to share it with you here, because my sense is that many people define themselves in some way through what they do and what they have, and too few people have as rock-solid a sense of identity and meaning as Nan has. 

So, here’s 3 questions I am asking myself, following my conversation with Tony, you might find it useful to ask these of yourself: 

  1. How closely do I define who I am by my business, job or some other ‘thing’?
  2. I have friends who have lost their jobs- and worse! Perhaps they were once ‘Something in Banking’, ‘Something in IT’ or something else important and impressive. As a friend, I may be supporting, challenging and reassuring them. Perhaps they tell me that they know it is ‘Nothing personal’ and that their loss does not undermine their self image. But, how does what they tell me stack up against Nan’s position? How can I help them further? 
  3. How about those young people I know who have come out of education and are struggling to find their first job? How can I help them define who they are when everyone else is busy labeling them?

Following my chat with Tony about his Nan, I have pulled out Viktor Frankel’s masterpiece ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ – which is an inspiring (and moving) read. One I recommend. Meanwhile I will leave you with my best wishes and a couple of Frankl’s quotes to sit beside Nan’s. Let me know if you have any thoughts on this.

Challenging the meaning of life is the truest expression of the state of being human. Viktor E. Frankl

Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Viktor E. Frankl