Hi I’m Nic, and I have a confession. I lost who I was.
I’ve never told this story in its entirety before.
I still remember when the earthquake hit. How lost and confused I felt. How my beliefs crumbled around me. It stemmed from the hollow foundations my identity was built on. A facade I unknowingly built for my environment. As I stood upon the wreckage, a realisation gripped me. Who am I?
But why did this earthquake hit me? What caused this quarter-life crisis?
It’s a question that frequently ricochets around the inside of my head.
Section 1 - Losing My Who
As a junior Australian Rules footballer I was showered in accolades. Due to the good fortune of an early growth spurt and an endless source of energy I dominated the competition. The words of affirmation I received over my talent warmed my soul. I oriented my whole identity around my ability.
At the time it was great. However, as my peers began to catch-up and surpass me, I had an identity crisis. A lack of maturity and Brenee Brown not being in my life led to a failure to recognise what I felt was a barrage of shame.
It led to two challenges: one, to figure out who I was and two, how to deal with this shame that consumed me. As a rascal teenager I approached overcoming shame the only way I knew how - by creating excuses. I began pretending like I didn’t care and became a massive partier. How could anyone fault me when they saw how much fun I was having on the weekend?
Unfortunately, to live the life of the party, is to live at the peril of other people’s opinions. Not only do you need to make sure you get invited to the parties, but to gain the validation I needed and to show how much fun I was having, my behaviour became more and more reckless. My Instagram had become renown for Jackass type videos, every night out became another opportunity to entertain.
My dream was never to party forever, so when I finished high-school the parties became surrounded with study and work. I saw them as check boxes to ensure I kept my goals alive. To earn a healthy income to provide for myself, be accepted by my friends and make my parents proud.
The Danger of Why Without Who
It’s only now that I see how inevitable my destruction was.
When your ‘who’ is simply a byproduct of your environment, you have no control. Whatever the crowd crows goes. As the years progressed my reckless reputation was pushed further and further. Each stunt needed to out do the last. Each party I needed to be louder and more obnoxious.
I should consider myself lucky my antiques didn't end up in death. I’ll never forget the pain I caused my Dad after he found out I jumped off the tallest bridge in Venice, in the middle of winter, at 4am in the morning (in underwear and poncho) into the canal below. The emotion behind his eyes as he stared at me in disbelief spoke a thousand words: What’s coming first maturity or a body bag?
I’m not sure if it’s a blessing or a curse that TikTok didn’t exist back then. I might have died, but I also might have a million followers and live in LA. But I digress.
The penultimate consequence of my lifestyle was breaking up with my girlfriend who I adored at the time at the end of 2019. Despite being convinced I’d do anything for her, I couldn't prevent the car crash of events that occurred.
Reflecting on Who
It wasn’t until I met Errol did I realise how misguided I was.
We met under fortuitous circumstances. It was only a month into my first ‘dream’ full-time corporate job. We were on a rural property outside of Sydney, running a bootcamp for entrepreneurs. Errol, a gentleman in his 70s, whose white wispy hair wrapped around his head in a way that is reserved for only the most wise, was my manager’s Dad and in attendance as the programs coach.
Throughout the few days we spoke briefly at times. Me, speaking 1000 miles per hour as I always do, likely giving off the impression I had the whole world figured out. Errol, the opposite, speaking carefully because he really did have much more of the world figured out.
However, at this time I had no idea of the turbulence that was to come.
After the Bootcamp I sent a message to my manager about how I wanted to ‘step-up’ and continue to grow through coaching sessions with Errol, her father. I saw coaching as a way for me to accelerate my growth. To propel me through the ranks of the company and hold more responsibility. I was certain I’d reach my goals of earning more, impressing my friends and making my parents proud quicker.
Our sessions began as we were thrusted into lockdown so we were on Zoom. I felt nervously excited. Excited by the thought of the outcomes, nervous about proving to him that he wasn’t wrong about taking a chance on me.
My first task was to set goals. It sounded easy enough. I’d been achieving goals my whole life, right? However, I was shocked to find I struggled to set them for myself. I came to realise I’d never extrapolated my life forward and consciously set a direction for myself. The truth hurt: I never actually set goals before, I just warped myself as I moved between circumstances.
I followed the well-trodden path because I had no idea who I was. The easiest way to prolong the facade and ignore the truth.
For the next few months my fortnightly routine became a Zoom call where we unpacked my answers to self-reflection exercises followed by another fortnight of exercises. This process gave me a lens I’d never viewed the world through before. However, the lens wasn’t rose coloured. It felt like a horror movie. Exercise by exercise it made me conscious of the disconnect of who I thought I was and who I really was.
The experience was compounded by lockdown. It was the first time in living memory I couldn’t go out on the weekend and gain my hit of social approval that my identity needed.
It’s only then did I acknowledge how I spent most Saturday nights, sitting at a pub, wasn't something I found fun. How I craved connection with my best friends. However, I’d go 6 weeks without seeing them. How I simply went to work so that I could enjoy myself on the weekend.
These realisations made me spiral. All the usual existential questions gripped me: Who am I? What is it all for? Why?
How To Find Your Who
Errol provided the framework to guide me towards the answers.
I learnt how your emotions act as signposts for your who. The stronger the emotion the stronger the signal. I identified my emotional response to different events from my past. I realised that my strongest emotions came from behaviours where I didn’t feel loved.
Herein I found the hypocentre of my earthquake. Since I lost my ‘who’ as a teenager, I’d become a chameleon, warping to the environments I found myself in to gain approval and admiration. After a footy player I’d become a class clown, partyer, stunt-man, aspiring entrepreneur and a program coordinator (to name a few). Upon reflection this wasn’t me, rather a by-product of the environments I found myself in.
The challenge was to now chip away at those personas like a sculptor with a block of marble.
I identified the character traits of people I idolised. How I loved Muhammad Ali’s grit for standing up for what he believed in and his humour in how he communicates. How I was in awe of Musk’s ability to dream big and my manager’s empathy for helping others.
I gained the ability to identify the aspects I liked or disliked in the people I met. I was drawn to people who came across as authentic, passionate and had an ability to laugh.
Chip by chip, I slowly began to see myself.
A New Who
The final piece of the puzzle became defining a ‘why’ that was personal to me. Not something out of my control like ‘impressing my friends’ or ‘make my parents proud’ but a change I’d strive to create every day. A mission that underpinned the person I’d be moving forward. The change would be a north star that required Musk-like visionary, Ali-like grit and my manager’s empathy.
A statement to sit below my motivations and any job titles that try to define me in the future.
To create this I looked internally. I mapped out changes I wanted to create. I found the answer to be the one thing I assumed everyone in the world wanted. But realised I only assumed that because it’s the one thing I always wanted:
To help humans pursue their passions.
At first my statement was simply ‘to enable others to pursue their passions’. But this wasn’t personal enough to me. I wanted a sentence that was specific to me, unique to my ‘who’.
So for the statement I gravitated towards the word Zest. It was the word my Dad used to describe me on my 18th Birthday. I hold a belief that anyone who pursues their passions will be zestful in doing so.
So today I’d like to reintroduce myself:
Hi I’m Nic, I “Empower Aspirational Changemakers to find their Zest”.