“O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!”
– Robert Burns, Scottish Poet
This line from Robert Burns’ poem, “To a Louse” is one of my favorites, something I quote often. Oh, if we could only see ourselves as others see us! I’m reminded of a time at about age twenty or so when my life got a little off track. One day I received a note in the mail from an old family friend and father figure who saw what was going on and took the time to write and remind me of my God-given talents, gently urging me to get back to living up to my potential. Over time I came to appreciate what a wonderful gift that was – to see myself as others do. I’ve never forgotten that.
In Frank Capra’s classic 1946 movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” George Bailey was about to jump off a bridge and commit suicide because he thought himself a complete failure. Then he had an encounter with Clarence, the angel sent to “save” him. It was Clarence who took George on an imaginary journey back through the events of his life in his hometown of Bedford Falls, except George was not in the story, as if he had never been born. What George soon realized in seeing the world without himself was that he had not been a failure at all, that in fact his life was extremely significant, impacting the lives of many in his community in ways he had failed to recognize. Had George Bailey never been born, so he learned, many would have suffered tragic consequences. What Clarence did was give George the gift of seeing himself as others saw him.
When I work with coaching clients the first thing I do is try to help them see themselves more clearly, especially in the way others see them. Sometimes that is helping them recognize in a constructive way certain behaviors that may be holding them back. But mostly it is getting them to realize they have much more potential than they ever imagined. It is not unlike what many of us have experienced raising children. We see so much more in them than they see in themselves. When we can help someone see that, we have given them a wonderful and powerful gift – like my old family friend gave me. “O wad some Power the giftie gie us to see oursels as ithers see us!”