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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

3 things that changed when I stopped trying to be someone else

Yay! Your mother said it, Jesus said it, Tolkien said it and neuroscience says it: life’s a journey. We see life through our brain and the brain is neuroplastic. It keeps remoulding its neural connections way beyond the end of childhood and adolescence.

What does that mean in practice? We can keep learning until we die.

Great news, right? It means your personality isn’t totally fixed, your happiness set point isn’t either and you can still learn to play a musical instrument or language late in life.

I think it’s fantastic. It’s also why coaching works: because we can still transform throughout life. In fact, if we don’t engage in repeated cycles of transformation, life can start to feel pretty stuck, stale and dreary. Boo. Not under my watch!

But what’s the cost of this transformational magic?...


The people I work with want to be the greatest version of themselves. Consistently. They want true happiness, authentic success and to make a difference.


See the video below on how to succeed at everything from a previous Wise Wednesdays.

And here's an article written with Dr Terri Simpkin on what success probably is not reflecting on Elon Musk's recent public breakdown...Feel free to leave a comment!


When making the commitment to live this way consistently, things can start to shift and they can hit resistance to change. They sometimes ask me how they can deal with the discomfort of going for their big dreams and committing to their path.

I reassure them first that it’s normal. It’s like a growth spurt; it hurts as you stretch into a new shape. To live the big dream, we have to become the person that fits that dream and that means our personality, our identity has to evolve and change. That can be painful as we realise a part of us has to go away; a few neural synapses have to be pruned…A process similar to grieving can take place if the change is deep and that they don’t expect. My job here is to make sure they don’t pathologise the natural emotional journey of change because the risk is that they give up and stay trapped in their comfort zone living a small, tight life.

That’s why the saying goes that: learning requires suffering a little injury.

Concepts we may have held dear have to be shed and that causes stress to the body (remember how discovering the truth about Santa Claus felt?…)


So the discomfort of growing so you can fit your dreams is something you just have to be with and bounce off, until you get the light bulb moment that gets you through to the other side of the growth spurt.

The “aha” moment is the fun part – the nucleus acumbens is superactivated and we get a dopamine hit.

But before we get there, we might have to wonder for a little while in confusion, boredom or tension as the brain tries to square the old information with the new information or the old possibilities with the new possibilities.


A key feature of this wonderful cycle of what ultimately can be tagged with the labels of learning, mastery and creativity is that to truly make the dream happen, a combination of three things has to occur:

  1. insight (the aha);

  2. skill (to carry out the necessary tasks); and

  3. courage (to go through the process and not flinch or give up during the growth spurt).

Prof Vincent Walsh came to this conclusion based on research at UCL.

Brain imaging of master jazz musicians and other creatives show an intriguing pattern: the skill areas of the brain are switched on while they perform but the social monitoring areas are switched off.

They’re using their skills without paying attention to whether people like what they’re doing. They’re not scanning for approval or validation in the audience. Put simply: they don’t care what others think.


So what does this mean for you aside from reminding you to make space in your schedule for your creative hobbies?

Perhaps it’s time to take a leap? Perhaps it’s time to stop pushing and tugging at circumstances and ride the flow of the inner, emotional journey of learning and change. Even if it takes you into the discomfort of the growth spurt, you know there’s an aha waiting for you on the other side, together with the magic and fulfilment of becoming the greater, more masterful version of you.

Legend in the making: C is an internationally respected star of complex corporate law. He’s excellent at what he does but he wanted to do something with more social impact. When we first spoke, he was considering leaving his job to work with the church. But that would have had a significant impact on his young family. So we worked to express his values of social justice and impact through other projects in combination with his skills and current opportunities. One of them was establishing a national mooting competition network – the first of its kind in Mexico. This week he emailed me to announce that he’d launched it officially. The network brings together several universities and collaborators of a range of backgrounds and effectively democratises access to the best training in debating and law. It also puts the focus on themes of economic justice by integrating debates on social impact and not just corporate interests. We also worked on a longer term vision and plan to grow as an expert in the complex ethics that will face us with big business in the second machine age. Here’s the website Congratulations, C!

For me, what happened in three big areas of my life:

  • Work: I stopped doing work the way I was being told to and created my own path becoming the first female entrepreneur in my family as far as I know!

  • Relationships: I stopped trying to do what was expected of women and embraced the freedom and peace of celibacy (an incredible boost to creativity, by the way…)

  • Existential questions: I’ve found my own answers and they have something to do with remembering who I truly am and the flow of perpetual learning…


Now, over to you.

If you switched off your social monitoring brain for a week and trusted that you have some serious life and technical skills under your belt, what big thing might you do that you’ve been putting off? What might you step into that you’re afraid of but really know you can figure out? Would you allow yourself to build the plane as you fly?

Amina | Create your world

Have a burning question or comment about Wise Wednesdays? Email me on

Dates for your diary: 1) Free online training on Dealing with Difficult People – Key Principles and Practices (60min): Wednesday 12th of September, 6.30pm UK / 1.30pm EST / 10.30am PST. Register here:

2) Leaders Circle at Harley Street (2 hours): Thursday 27th of September, 6.30pm. Pencil it in. Ticket details to follow. Theme: Dealing with Difficult People – Key Principles and Practices

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