You are you wherever you go.
By Dave Blum
A wise man once told me, “You are you wherever you go.” Little did I know how true that might be — until disaster struck.
It’s 2001, a warm muggy day in southwest Costa Rica. My travel partner, Donna, and I have just finished our walking tour of the Corcovado rain forest with our nature guide, Maria, and our boat pilot, Luis. Shortly after pushing off from the beach and beginning our return to our tent cabin resort, the fuel line of our glorified row boat pops out of the motor and we’re forced to stop while Luis fixes it. Suddenly I hear a roaring sound from the direction of the beach, and WHAM, it happens! A much larger tourist boat, perhaps three times our size, slams into our vessel with brutal force, launching up and over us!
Maria and Luis see it coming and jump out of the boat just in time. Donna manages to duck down – and me, well, I’m completely oblivious until the prow of the bigger craft crashes into my lower back and throws me violently forward to the floor of our boat.
My first thought is “What the heck just happened?” My second thought is, “Oh my god, I’ve just taken a direct hit to my spine. I could be paralyzed. Can I move my arms and legs?”
Miraculously, none of us are seriously injured. Luis is completely untouched. Maria has a slight leg contusion. Donna has a black eye and a small cut on the top of her head. Myself, well — I don’t appear to be paralyzed, but my back is burning with pain and I’m afraid to move.
By way of apology, the larger boat pilot promptly tows us to the nearest resort, where the staff nurse checks us all out. As she’s bandaged up, Donna flashes me a big grin and says, “We are so lucky! That could have been so much worse. Gee, I wonder if I can get a margarita. Shall I order you one too?”
“Are you crazy! I’m hurt here. I might have injured my spine, or my kidneys. I might still be paralyzed. I do NOT want a margarita!
The irony is, if I was in Donna’s shoes, with just a few cuts and bruises, I would be doing exactly what she’s doing – cracking jokes and jollying the situation.
You see, when I’m feeling safe and secure, that’s exactly who I am–the “jolly-er”. Like Donna, I have what’s called an “initiating” communication style. That means I’m wired to be sociable, energetic, spontaneous and fun loving. I’m fast-paced and impulsive. I value interacting with others and sharing stories – like I’m doing right now. I’m motivated by relationships and prefer a stimulating, personal and friendly environment.
But my personality style has a darker side as well, that emerges when I’m under duress—like say, during a boating accident in a third-world country! Under extreme duress, I express myself in any one of three typical reactions, namely : 1) getting short-tempered and judgmental. 2) over worrying. 3) withdrawing from people.
Back at our tent cabin later that day, my condition gradually becomes clear. Thankfully, I appear to have no more than a deep, back bruise, about the size of a ripe papaya. Yes, it hurts to move, it hurts to lie down, it hurts to get up and use the restroom. But it definitely could have been worse. Nevertheless, I’m angry—angry at the other boat pilot for not seeing us. Angry at Maria and Luis for abandoning ship! Angry at myself for being so oblivious. At the same time, I’m filled with worry. It’s taking a long time to get better. Maybe I did really hurt myself. Maybe I should cut my trip short and go home.
And I also withdraw:
“Dave, can I get you anything? Some food? A margarita?”
“No thanks, Donna. I just want to be alone!”
Little by little, over time, my back does get better. My trip in Costa Rica continues. I watch in amazement as Mount Arenal erupts at night. I swim in a hot spring river. I zip line over a jungle canopy, surrounded by the cries of howler monkeys.
The positive traits of my initiating communication style return as well. I rediscover my sociable nature. I rediscover my lost sense of humor.
“You are you wherever you go”.
Whether in exotic Costa Rica or right here at home, your personality follows you, so you might as well get to know who you are (in all situations, good and bad) and be ready for it.
Can I have my margarita now??!
Notes: What’s your communication style, particularly under pressure? How do you “act out” in the heat of the moment? Do you know your “stress traits” and have you communicated them to your friends, co-workers and loved ones? And most importantly, what are you doing to mitigate those patterns? After all, just because we have “inclinations” towards different personality styles and behaviors, that doesn’t mean we’re fixed in stone. A mindfulness practice, for example, can go a long way towards putting a buffer between your thoughts and your habitual reactions. As an exercise, the next time you’re feel stressed out, write down what you’re thinking and feeling. Note how you would “act out” if you just let yourself go? The more self-knowledge you acquire, the more self-control you acquire.
As Sun Tzu wrote: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. … If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”