The Power of I Am

I recall an experience from a class I taught several years ago. The class was an intensive experience in personal development, lasting four days. Everything seemed to be going well, for most of the participants. They were open, participating in the exercises, and supporting each other. However, there was one student by the name of Bill who was not engaged in the experience. He had come with his wife and made it clear that he did not want to be there. His posture was defensive and his look bored, throughout most of our time together. Making the situation more difficult, he rebuffed my attempts, both public and private, to understand what he was feeling and offer him support. As time went on and day one rolled into day two and day two into day three, I became increasingly impatient. Bill refused to leave, not wanting to disappoint his wife, but also refused to participate, which greatly affected the other participants during the exercises.

Finally, on Saturday morning, the last day of the class, Bill opened up. It was as though he had been testing the waters the previous three days to make sure it was safe enough to immerse himself fully. The room was quiet as Bill shared with us that he had just learned the previous summer that he was dyslexic; a 9 on a scale of 10. He could barely read and was desperately afraid of being embarrassed in front of the group.

As early as elementary school, Bill learned to compensate for his disability in two ways. First, he was athletic and honed his skills to be one of the best in his school. In fact, he was given a scholarship to play baseball at a major university. However, what he thought would be a career in the major leagues was cut short when he was struck in the head by a hard-hit ball at close range, an accident which ended his sports career and aspirations.

The second way he learned to compensate for his disability was by being a class clown and behavior problem. He drew so much negative attention to himself and was such a terror that all of the efforts of his teachers went into managing his behavior and they ignored his learning disability. Glad to be rid of him, they would pass him from one class and one year to another. Bill continued from elementary to middle school to high school, bluffing his way through.

The bluffing ended, however, late his senior year. Bill was attending a party when a fellow student got everyone’s attention and proceeded to embarrass Bill by telling the group that Bill could not read. At first Bill laughed it off, desperately trying to convince everyone that the announcement was a hoax. After all, he was a senior in high school.

The student went on taunting him and finally pulled a history book from a shelf and tossed it to Bill, with the challenge, “Go ahead. Read a few lines.” Knowing he could not read at more than a third grade level, Bill stammered, fought back tears, and ran from the room humiliated and defeated.

There was not a dry eye in the room as Bill shared his story. After a moment of silence, someone spoke up, “Bill, it doesn’t matter to me whether or not you can read, you’re okay and I love you.” Bill could not contain his sobs as an entire group, overwhelmed with emotion, reached out to touch him and offer him words of reassurance. Bill wept for a long time that morning, allowing the group to support him and help him heal from the deep wounds of shame and inadequacy he had felt for so many years.

After several minutes someone put a chair in the middle of the room and invited him to stand on it. Bill stood tall and shouted out the words, “My name is Bill. I am dyslexic. And I am okay. I am a good man. I am a lovable man,” to the cheers and applause of the group.

This moment touched me deeply. I felt such compassion for Bill and recognized how I’d misjudged him. I realized that we cannot judge someone because we don’t know their story.

I also realized that who I am is so much more than facts and circumstances, what I do, who I work for, where I live, etc. In fact, “I am” is perhaps what is deepest and most true about me. Bill started to get in touch with his “I am’s” that day. He realized that he is much more than the story he’d been telling himself, as he hid from the world. “I am” is a lot like “I choose.” Both are statements that define who we are at our core.

So what are your “I am’s?” What is the deeper story that you’ve been telling yourself about who you are? Does it serve you? And would you be willing to trade old and worn-out “I am’s” for those that may serve you better.

Doing so requires deep thought. It requires that you accept responsibility for yourself and get beyond the internalized voices of others. It means not allowing what may have been true yesterday, to define you today.

So, my challenge to you is to take some time to think deeply. Identify a few “I am’s.” Write them down. Make sure they are positive expressions of the person you desire to be (which is who you are, deep in your heart). Say them aloud, again and again. Take them with you and allow them to be the paradigm through which you view your life.


About Roger K. Allen
Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. is an expert in personal transformation and family development. His tools and methods have helped tens of thousands of people live happier and more effective lives. To learn more, visit www.rogerkallen.com>.

4 responses to “The Power of I Am”

  1. Monica McNulty says:

    What a great message! I truly believe that there is no more important work than helping people to experience this kind of transformation, which only comes through receiving unconditional love and acceptance. Having this sort of experience in a group that I was a part of in the early 90s completely changed my life. Learning to really love ourselves despite our shortcomings is the hardest part. Thanks for sharing this message…it’s SUCH an important one!

    • Roger Allen says:

      Hi Monica,

      Thanks for your response. This has been my experience as well. I have found, from the classes I’ve taught, that people will make incredible breakthroughs when the social context is one of love and support.

  2. Carol Jenson says:

    This article touched me deeply. A member of our extended family had a similar learning dissability and was constantly joking and doing other things I thought were very annoying and unproductive. There wasn’t help at school in the years he was a student and he dropped out at the eighth grade level. This greatly limited his career opportunities. It wasn’t until I had judged him harshly and many years had past that I learned about the learning dissability and the process he had to go through to think things through and figure out how to communicate and make decisions. Now I can see he was trying to cover his feelings of inadequacy and compensate for his lack of reading and writing skills. He worked with his hands for a living and later in life he used his hands to bless thousands of people. When I look at his life now, I see him as a hero.

    • Roger Allen says:

      Wow, Carol. I appreciate you sharing this personal experience. Isn’t it amazing how our perspective changes as we get to know someone in a truer way. Our judgments are based on little and often distorted information. I’m glad to hear that to hear that this family member was able to make a useful living and bless thousands of people. Thank you for sharing.

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