In the book Presence, Otto Scharmer tells the story of coming home from school at age 16 to find his home in flames. His family had lived in that farmhouse for 200 years and all his belongings were inside, so as he stood there in shock, everything he identified with was going up in smoke. Gradually he became aware that there was still a small part of him that was not being destroyed – the part that was watching. It dawned on him that this seemingly small part was his true self, and it would continue on without the material clutter, which he now realised had been limiting him all along.
This truth applies to us all. Our job, possessions, nationality, reputation, opinions and hobbies are not who we are; yet it is easy to go through life thinking that the way we describe ourselves is all there is to us.
The young Otto’s experience showed him that the sense of identity he gained from his belongings and family history had served to make him smaller, not bigger. Once he understood that he was still Otto without those things, the content of his character became the focus.
Here’s a question for you: If you lost all your belongings tomorrow, would you still be the same person you are now? If the answer feels like a ‘no’, you’re probably linking your identity – and your worth – with your material circumstances. Sometimes, striving to create an outwardly successful life can get in the way of developing a much more important aspect of our self – our character. Good character means living in accordance with our values, being happy with who we are on the inside, and not judging ourselves or others by current circumstances.