Creating My Signature Presence


As children we learn to print our letters, then we connect those letters into words. Naturally our name is one of the first words we learn to spell. And as we grow a little more, those letters begin to find connection as we begin writing our first cursive signature. Shaky at first, but with time and practice, our signatures become smooth and quick, penned without thinking over and over and over. Our signature leaves its mark on report cards and bank drafts, passports, medical waivers, petitions of protest, birth certificates, divorce papers.

Our signature represents the very essence of our being. When we sign something, we are telling the world that we were here. A signature is a naming—the act of making known that which was previously hidden, unknown, unrevealed. Irish theologian and writer, Padraig O’ Tuama, says this about naming:

A name is only shorthand for something much bigger. A collection of letters that will be pronounced, abbreviated, translated and mispronounced. It’s a metaphor for life. To name something is to begin a relationship with it. To be named is to be summoned into being and to name is to participate in this project of living.   (In the Shelter, 2015)

Over the last six years I have studied and practiced professional coaching. One of the foundational principles of coaching is to discover and name your signature presence. I remember my first training session around this idea. While I had done a lot of self-directed growth and mindfulness the past 20 years, I found entering into this very vulnerable exercise with people whom I just met absolutely paralyzing.

What if all the terrible things I thought about myself deep down in the dark recesses of my shadow self were actually true?

What could people who did not even know me possibly say about me that was meaningful?

 What if they had nothing to say at all?

Over the course of the three days we each had envelopes printed with our names and taped to the wall. Participants were asked throughout the training to slip notes into one another’s envelopes about their observations and reflections of each participant. On the final afternoon, we were given our envelopes and asked to look through those papers in order to see common threads. I remember how vulnerable I felt reaching my hand in to pull out those coloured sticky notes.

And as I laid them out before me, the tears I had been fighting back all morning began to spill onto the table. Note after note named the things inside of me that I hoped were true—respectful, intentional, confident, warm, inviting, truthful, welcoming.  And as I reflected on those pieces of paper my signature presence began to take shape and I could name it with confidence and clarity—honouring influencer.

To be named is to be summoned into being and to name is to participate in this project of living.”

This was in fact, who I was, who others experienced me to be and how I desired to show up authentically in my life. To know and be known from the very core of our being is a brave, vulnerable and exhilarating freedom. It is not an aspiration; it is a revelation.

Each one of us carries a signature presence. It is that thing that we leave behind that others connect to, observe about us and respond back to us in how they felt after having been around us. It needs to be named to be activated. When I could name that essence, I could then play with what it looked like and how I showed up as an honouring influencer in the various places and spaces I found myself. I could test it out in my workplace, with clients and colleagues. I could also refine it and create deeper learning and practices that continued to cultivate and nourish it.

It also challenges me to live up to it everyday. A presence must be practiced in order for it to be observed. It must be cared for in order to be sustainable. And it must inspire hope in myself and others in order for it to be worthwhile.

What signature presence will you write with your one, wild life?