Saturday, April 26, 2014


How might the totality of one’s identity evolve over the years?  Voilà one of the questions I asked at the end of my last post.  Branding, that intentional professional persona one cultivates to create distinction, separateness, or notoreity, requires dedication and savvy to pull off.  Still, it is easier to accomplish than sculpting myself into the people I might hope to become. 

Just as a sculptor must know the material with which he or she is working—wood, marble, soapstone, or bronze, for example—in order to free, as Michaelangelo said, the form imprisoned inside, I must be self-aware.  To shape my identity, I must not only know myself.   If I aspire to liberate any potential that lies within,  I must also know myself in relation to others.   When I learned about Johari’s Window and applied that knowledge to my personal development, my own journey on the path of self-discovery gained momentum.

Johari’s Window gave me an entirely new perspective on myself.   Created by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in the United States in 1955 as a tool to help people better understand their relationship with themselves and with others,   Johnari’s Window anchored the content of a  graduate class in human relations I took almost thirty years ago.  Although the understanding I developed in that class differs slightly from the explanations of Johari’s Window I find online and that you might also encounter in your own searches, I will nevertheless share it with you here,  given its impact on the development of my own identity.

The Window is created by the intersection of two graduated axes:  what we know about ourselves (horizontal), and our awareness of what others know about us (vertical).  These intersecting continua create four quadrants.

1  The Arena 
This quadrant is our goal.  People in quadrant one know themselves very well.  They recognize their strengths and limitations, and they also have an accurate perception of the information others have about them.  That combination allows them to mobilize all of their potential to reach goals they set.

2 The Blindspot
People in this quadrant don’t yet recognize their strengths or limitations; they are very aware, however, of the perception others have of them.  I call this the paralysis quadrant, as people’s focus on what others think and know about them can undercut their power to achieve.  

3   Private
People in this quadrant do recognize their strengths and limitations, but are unaware of how others perceive them.  As a result, they might not anticipate the effect their words and actions might have on the people around them.  My professor called this the ‘bull in the china shop’ syndrome.

4  Unknown
People in this quadrant recognize neither their own strengths and limitations nor how others might perceive them.  This ignorance severely curtails accomplishment, and individuals remain closeted in their own world like a turtle in its shell.

Throughout that class, our professor asked us to keep a journal that chronicled our journey.  I remember using it then, in my early thirties, to track my position in Johari’s Window, and to make decisions about both where I could go to inch closer to the Arena and also what actions I might choose in order to get there.  As a result, I gained more control over the direction my identity could take.  Using feedback to gain specific knowledge about both my own qualities and the perceptions others had about me, I was able to make decisions that directed me toward the arena.  

Sculpting myself into the person I have always wanted to be is, of course, a work in progress.   When my time is up, I will still not have finished.  In the process of identity building, however, Johari’s Window has enabled me to see through obstacles in my path, and take some action to shape the person I continue to become. 

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