Last week I attended a presentation given by Stedman Graham. Graham is the CEO of S. Graham & Associates, a management, marketing, and consulting firm based in Chicago. Many of you know him as Oprah's beau; he is brother to two special needs siblings, and from a small town where, as a child, he was regarded by some as "not smart". He is also a black male. Graham, of all people, knows what it's like to suffer an identity crisis--to be labeled by society in a way that neither resonates with nor serves him.

"The world sees you exactly as you see yourself," Graham said. He poignantly sketches a portrait of today's average person who gets up in the morning, sends the kids off to school, goes to work, eats dinner, goes to bed and gets up to do it all over again. "Groundhog Day", I thought. A seemingly endless loop within the confines of our box--our very small, uncomfortable comfort zone.

How many people are guilty of losing themselves in society's definition of who they are, of who they appear to be? Middle class Americans, striving for a dream they rarely take time to enjoy to its fullest. Too many, I'm afraid. Yet we are not bound indefinitely by this theme. Awareness, Graham points out, is the first step. "When you are aware, you get to co-create with the world," he says. "When you fail to claim your true identity, you have no foundation upon which to organize information and resources relevant to your development; you are out of alignment."

"People who wonder whether life can offer them more may not know how to find, or create, a road to personal success," Graham says. "If we do not know who we are, we cannot understand our purpose, our motivations, or our future."

Your-identity-matters. It's a powerful message. One that causes pause and offers the opportunity to re-evaluate, then re-engineer, the foundation upon which you've built your life.

I do this discovery work with my clients because understanding one's values, passion, purpose, and mission are the building blocks used to construct, not only a thriving business, but a happy, healthy, well-rounded life. Everyone needs a foundation; identifying and understanding what's most important to you gives you a roadmap for life--on your terms.

Who are you not?

People often make the mistake of identifying themselves by their roles in life, possessions, or life-defining events. Yes, I am a business coach but it is not who I am; it is the vehicle I've chosen to fulfill my passion and purpose. When you're asked to talk about yourself, do you begin with your status as a parent, business owner, or manager? These are the things you do, and most likely love doing, but they are not who you are.

Construct your foundation.

Ask yourself, "What is the most important thing in the world to me, the thing I cannot live without?" And then, "What else can I not live without?" Ask these questions of yourself over and over again, until your list includes everything you need to feel complete. Your answers will range from the people and things you love most, to personal integrity or the other values that are part of your true identity. These are the things you are passionate about; without them, strength, happiness, success, and fulfillment are not jointly possible.

It all begins with love.

Graham conducted a fun exercise on the stage last week. Six members of the audience were asked to identify the things they love the most--in 30 seconds. How many things can you name in 30 seconds? Graham's small study group named between 14 and 24. When these audience members were given their instruction I thought, "I wonder how many of them will say, 'I love myself?'" Only one. To fulfill your purpose, to find the answers you seek, and to be the person you want the world to see you as, you must love yourself. As Graham puts it, "Love is the most powerful word in the world."

List your strengths and interests.

Everything you enjoy doing, every skill you possess, and every topic that grabs your interest are part of your identity and purpose. A woman in the crowd at Graham's event asked about crossword puzzles which, apparently, she enjoys. Graham was quick to point out that you need an organized, patient, and focused mind to do crossword puzzles. All qualities capable of contributing to her identity. Do a mind map of your strengths, skills, and interests and notice how they interconnect.

You may feel you're too busy to pause everything and focus on your identity. Perhaps you're even satisfied with who you are today. Is "satisfied" enough? Who does the world see you as? Who do you really want to be? There is no better time than now to begin this process and claim your most powerful contribution to the world: the real you.