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"Bio #2"

You’re familiar, I’m sure, with Bio #1.

That’s the one you write to impress the world.

It’s a common bio that captures accomplishments. You display the achievements that set you apart from others: those positions, goals and awards you worked hard for and won, the organizations you’ve led, the financial successes, the people you’ve helped.

The summary usually includes an impressive story, worded in humble prose. How running that lemonade stand at the age of nine helped you learn how to treat customers, negotiate, and feel good about yourself. Or the time you stole a squirt gun from the store and, after your mother brought you back by the ear to return it, you vowed never to steal again.

Or how you grew up in a poor and dysfunctional family, with the odds stacked against you, and out of the ashes you emerged, having suffered, survived, and succeeded.

Your story might be one of good fortune, or perseverance. Either way, in your first bio, you appear independent and “together.” A beacon of wisdom and moral uprightness. A person admired.

Bio #1 is respectable and accurate. You’re not fabricating or imagining; you actually did what you say you did. And it works, if by “works” you mean it attracts others to you and gets you into important rooms and influential relationships.

But, if you’re honest with yourself, that first bio is woefully incomplete, a well-publicized half-story.

Developing another bio enables you to re-balance your behavioral portfolio.

Bio #2 recounts the mistakes you’ve made, your moral lapses, questionable motives, blown opportunities, prejudices, lost friendships, failings and regrets.

Your second bio is an “interior document” that will never show up in your resume or obituary. It’s about reflecting on, and reckoning with, your imperfection and incompleteness, not to beat yourself up, but to learn and grow.

You might be asking, “Why focus on the negative?”

That’s a cupcake question: the second bio isn’t negative, it’s a sign that you want to be honest with yourself, about yourself, to become a better self. The requirement for emotional courage, and the many benefits that come from Bio #2, make it a big-time positive.

What are the benefits?

Three come to mind.

First, your second bio enables you to more easily relate to and connect with others, and them with you. It’s hard to approach a person who’s sitting high on a pedestal. Instead of setting you apart, like Bio #1, your self-honesty makes you more human to those who want to know you. You expose the lonely fantasy that you are different from or above others. You strengthen your connections.

Second, Bio #2 enables you to see yourself as you really are. You begin to accept your warts, bad decisions and unproductive habits, with the intent to improve. It begins to dawn on you that you cannot learn from what you refuse to admit. So you set your compass in the direction of self-transparency.

Third, with the unflattering pieces of your puzzle on the table, you are able to examine your life with greater objectivity. Your focus shifts from anxious striving for perfection to seeking understanding about the past. Family patterns from your upbringing come into view.

This is an especially important exercise for highly successful leaders, whose accolades too easily shape their identities, and rob them of deep self-awareness. It can be freeing to face the unsavory elements that lurk in the shadows of Bio #1, beckoning for the candor of Bio #2:

“My criticisms of others has cost me good friends.”

“I put the business ahead of my relationship with the kids.”

“I wish I had more contact with my sister.”

“I’ve made decisions out of fear.”

When you take an honest inventory of your immature functioning, even the most unsavory memories can become rich compost for planting something new. You set the stage for self-forgiveness and self-improvement.

What do you most regret about your family relationships?

What didn’t you do that you wish you had done?

What do you have the hardest time forgiving yourself for?

When leaders summon the grit to take on questions like that, and compose their second bios, lots of specifics – unexpressed for years or decades – get put on the table.

Most of the time, it’s not the difficult experiences of life that take their toll on our bodies and minds. It’s our anxiety about those experiences – and our efforts to avoid them - that spiral into self-blame, depression, physical ailments and disease.

Not all comfort is helpful. There’s a refreshing, even relieving wholeness in the discomfort of exploring Bio #2.

Some find it helpful to do Bio #2 work with a trusted guide; others peck away at it on their own. If you do it well, you’ll be getting beneath fake positiveness, self-delusion and denial.

In that effort, you’ll be doing yourself – and your most treasured relationships – a big favor.


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