You've heard me say that to get what you want, you have to be able to define exactly what that is. It's just as important to know exactly who you are, so you can let other people know it, too. If you want to be truly effective—personally, professionally and socially—then you must identify your unique qualities and commit to making the most of them. It's the key to success.

Corporations know that's just good business. Think about McDonald's. Whether you see those Golden Arches in Boise or Bangkok, you know just what to expect: a product that's distinguished itself in a market full of seemingly endless options. McDonald's gives its fans something they can count on—and that's why it's one of the most flourishing brands on the planet.

The same holds true for people. As "Dr. Phil," I have a pretty clear identity. Whether you love, hate or feel indifferent about me, you always know what you're going to get: I offer straight talk and common sense, and I tell the truth, whether it's what you want to hear or not. I'm committed to the horse I'm riding, and I'm taking it to the finish line.

I want you to ask yourself: Who am I? What are my singular characteristics? What do I most want the world to know about me? What do I value above all in life? Think about the persona you're projecting to the world.

I'm not suggesting that you try to be somebody you're not. Your persona should be congruent with your core self. In my case, one of my guiding beliefs is that a good friend isn't afraid to tell you the truth. So when someone takes the time to write to me asking for help, then, by God, she deserves my honest opinion. I care about and respect her enough to tell her what nobody else will. There's alignment between my public persona and my authentic self—and the person you see on TV is the same person I am when the cameras stop rolling.

I also know who I'm not. I'm not Channing Tatum. That's not in the cards for me, starting with my bald head! Most men would rather cut off an appendage than be bald, but not me. I've slapped this bald head on all my book covers because it's become my trademark. If I could grow hair right this second, I wouldn't do it. It's part of my identity.

There's an old saying in Texas that is definitely not a compliment: "He's anybody's dog that will hunt with him." In other words, that person is a follower who goes along with any situation, just like a sheep would follow the flock. He's willing to let the world tell him who he is. Don't go through life playing a role someone else has assigned you. Maybe your parents have declared that your sister is the smart one and you're the funny one. Or you've let some employer demean you until you've started believing you're the idiot he claims you are. Why would you let anybody else pick your horse?

It's draining to bury your authentic self—and it's a losing battle. Remember when you were a kid and you tried to hold a beach ball under water, but inevitably it would pop back up? Then you'd push it back down and fight it until it slipped up once again. Doing that all day would be exhausting, but that's essentially what's happening when you're constantly trying to deny who you are.

It's never too late to make a change. You are what you do: When a thief quits stealing, he's no longer a thief. When a shrinking violet learns to stand up for herself, she's not a shrinking violet anymore. If you want different, you have to do different. But you won't know how until you learn who you are and can be true to yourself. That's the only way you'll get where you want to go. Because as we all know, you can't ride two horses with one ass—you've got to pick just one!

Dr. Phillip C. McGraw's daily talk show is in its 12th season. He has written seven best-selling books; his latest is Life Code: The New Rules for Winning in the Real World (Bird Street).


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