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Excerpted from Wishcraft by Barbara Sher. Copyright © 1979 by Barbara Sher. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"Who do you think you are?"

  Barbara Sher, Wishcraft, Part 1

Who do you think you are?

That's a very interesting question. Or it would be, if the people who asked it when we were young had really wanted a thoughtful answer. Unfortunately, they weren't looking for an answer at all. They already had the answers. This is what they were saying:

"Who do you think you are, Sarah Bernhardt? Take that shawl off this minute and finish the dishes." Or:

"Who do you think you are, Charles Darwin? Get that disgusting turtle off my dining room table and do your arithmetic." Or:

"You--an astronaut? A scientist like Madame Curie? A movie star? Who do you think you are?"

Does that sound familiar? Most of us heard that question at some time during our growing up--usually at the vulnerable moment when we ventured some dream, ambition, or opinion close to our hearts. But imagine those words being spoken in a curious, open, wondering tone of voice, for once--not in that scalding tone of scorn we’ve all had burned into our brains.

I'd like to invite you to try a simple experiment. I'm going to ask you that question again, only this time try hearing it as a real question. Who do you think you are?

Exercise: Who Do You Think You Are?

Take a blank sheet of paper (we're going to be using a lot of blank paper in this book--it's the staff of life) and, in a few sentences to half a page, answer the question: "Who do you think you are?" I am genuinely interested in the answer. What do you consider the four or five most important characteristics that define your identity? There are no right or wrong answers, and there’s only one rule: don't think too long or hard. Put down the first and surest things that come to mind: "This is me."

Now take a look at your answer. There's a better than 50 percent chance that you said something like this:

"I'm 28, Catholic, single, a secretary in an electronics firm, live in Buffalo." Or:

"I'm 510", 175 pounds, black hair, brown eyes, Italian, former running back, vote Democratic, Vietnam veteran, appliance salesman." Or:

46 I'm a former teacher, married to a man I love, an M.D. in internal medicine, and I'm the mother of three terrific kids: Marty, 13, Jimmy, 8, and Elise, 5 1/2." Or:

"I'm black, born in Detroit, oldest of five kids. My father worked for GM. B.A. from Wayne State. Computer programmer. Marrying my high school sweetheart next summer."

All variants of "This is what I do for a living, here's where I live, I'm married, not married, I make money, I don't, I'm so-and-so's mother, I'm Episcopalian, I'm in school"--the kinds of things we usually tell each other when we meet. When we've exchanged these vital statistics, geographical and occupational details, we feel we've declared our identities and begun to get to know each other.

Well, we're wrong.

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