Always carry a childhood picture

I carry this picture in my wallet.

It’s an old black and white photo of me on a donkey on Blackpool beach, aged two and a half.

Why do I carry it with me? Well, most sociologists agree that up to about the age of four or five we are looking outwards, learning about the world.

After that time, we begin to look inwards. Everything we do is designed to save us from failing or looking ridiculous. But sadly, that often results in the very thing we’re trying to avoid.

Many of us have learned to appear confident, particularly in the workplace. We’ve learned to put on a public mask of confidence which, is not the same as feeling truly confident on the inside.

So, let’s try to remember what we were like as a child.

I saw a poster in a café a few years ago with the phrase, BECOME WHO YOU ARE. I loved it. I think it means we should try to re-connect with the person we were when we were young, as opposed to the public persona that we have become and now show to the world.

In our teenage years we often spent hours trying to fit in, trying to be like everyone else. As a result, many people say that they lack confidence. Especially in pressured situations.

It’s no wonder then that as an adult we have to constantly remind ourselves to become who we really are. Or rather, who we were – until we started trying to fit in.

Confident people seem to have a very clear understanding of who they are. They appear to be the same person, whatever the circumstances.

We’re all aware of big corporate brands. We visit a company website and immediately the design, colour and font make us feel that we know the company. Their branding is clear. It goes across their advertising, their product range, right through to the way they answer the telephone. In other words their brand is consistent.

Think back to the teachers you had at school. I suspect the ones you liked best had clear and consistent boundaries. We liked to know where we stood with someone – every day. It’s difficult for a child when a teacher is strict one day and lenient the next.

Teachers without consistent boundaries show no sense of who they are. Without a clear sense of who we are, people don’t know what we stand for or how to interact with us. And who we are, of course, is the ‘essence’ we were as a child.

Have you ever watched a small child absorbed with a toy? They are completely focused. But when something new catches their eye, they often drop the first toy and are immediately off onto something new. They are 100% ‘present’; focussed and committed to what they’re doing in the ‘now’.

On a good day, we can all be ‘present’. It’s a wonderful feeling. But on a day when perhaps I’m a little tired or a bit grouchy, and realise that I’m not present, I reach for this grainy picture of my two and a half year old smiling self, 100% present on Blackpool beach. It pulls me back to that sense of wonder that every day is new. Every day is special.

Speaking on BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs programme in 2020, actor Brian Cox, who also teaches drama, said he recommends that actors carry a picture of themselves as a child in their wallet. He said, ‘How we were as a child is the essence of who we really are: a person of joy, a person of wonder. The rest is just propaganda.’

I totally agree.

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