The Six-Year-Old Expert

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Modern psychology tells us the formative years are between 1 and 6; that’s when our personality develops. Malcolm Gladwell argues that 10,000 hours are required to be proficient. Interestingly, being awake for 5 years equals around 10,000 hours. So I will ask you to use this statement as a working hypothesis:

By the age of 6, you are an expert at being you.

That is about the same time you start going to school, pulling you away from who you are. Some us even get pulled very far away.

Nonetheless, we go through life trying to adapt to the rules and norms which govern our community: studying hard to get a good job, getting a “good job”, marrying the “right person”, starting a family, buying a home, and so on and so forth until we hit middle age, at which time we look back on our life and say, “WTF!….” Some of us have mid-life crisis, blow everything up, by the Porsche,… Basically, we pretend we can have a do over. I say pretend because at one point or another our 6 year old self comes running up behind you and gives you such a swift kick in the pants that you knock yourself flat on your face, start seeing a therapist, and work very hard at reconciling with yourself and the world.

Younger readers will have no idea what I am writing about because you are too immature yet to have experienced any of this. Then again, maybe some of you oldies are too immature to get this as well. No bother. I can’t connect with everyone. Although many of you will.

Back to my argument.

So many people I work with, like so many people I encounter, tell me this story about their lives in their own way. And I look at them in disbelief because I just don’t see my life in that way. I know. Many of you are thinking I must be immature too. Maybe? Read on and make up your own minds, snarky!

If we go back to the beginning of this article and take our working hypothesis ti heart – by the age of six, you are an expert at being you – then a more constructive way of looking back on your life is to see how each and every decision and action you took since you were 6 was motivated by the desire to bring the best possible you to bear on and touch the lives of those you were involved with at that time. To be clear, each interaction was and is an opportunity for you to bring your expertise – you – to benefit your community.

I have a quirky sense of humor so some of you might not appreciate this argument. Sorry. Think back to when you were dating. Often enough we meet people we like and start to see them more frequently. Some times we even feel “love” for them so we say “we love them”. And then, everything goes down the crapper and we don’t know why. In other cases, maybe we end up marrying the person and only many years later do things fall apart. In either situation we don’t really know why. I want to posit a solution:

What you are really feeling is not love for that other person but the irrational exuberance that comes from being free to take your 6 year old self out to play in the world. In other words, that person provides you with circumstances and conditions within which you feel safe enough to give full flight to your expertise, being you. When that irrational exuberance is reduced or diminished in some way you feel anger toward that person for having taken something away from you. The playground was closed so the 6 year old you gets mad.

Does this make sense?

I think it does. I think it explains a great deal.

We like to go toward situations in which we can be the best us possible because it makes us feel valuable to the community with which we are sharing ourselves. We feel sad, or even angry, when that feeling is taken away to one degree or another. And, we simply seek to avoid situations in which we can’t contribute anything of ourselves to the community with whom we come into contact.

Therefore, it makes perfect sense to see all of our choices in life as being driven by the desire to live a full a complete life. Or, as I say, we live our life in order to give expression to that primary motivator which is so important to our sense of identity, our expertise. Your choices about who to be friends with, what to study, your profession, where to live, to have children or not, to share you life with,…are opportunities to be you. They are all opportunities in which you can give expression to your motivator.

In fact, when I work with some of my clients, we often need to identify what exactly that motivator is in their life. When we work on career management, leadership, personal branding, and entrepreneurship to name just a few, knowing what motivates you to see the world as you do is fundamental to differentiation and identification. Here are a few examples:

  • Integrity – everything this gentleman does is driven by his need for integrity in the world, the people, the rules, the roles,…
  • Have your back – this woman is pivoting her existing business to focus on customer care; external and internal clients should feel they matter.
  • Relatability – this musician who to bring people together through his music and events.
  • Love of language – a social media entrepreneur love sculpting messages for their filmmaker clients.
  • Limitations – this marketer helps her clients see and overcome their blind spots.

Tapping into and nurturing that expert 6 year old in you will help you to live a happier and fuller life.

As a leadership coach, I have not met one person who is an effective leader without first being able to lead themselves. Think about. Read all the articles you want. You cannot put someone else’s interests ahead of your own if you are not first able to lead yourself.

If you, or someone you know, wants to identify their motivator please contact me. It is a long and some times difficult journey of self-discovery but one that is oh so rewarding.


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