remember who you are: seth godin

[This is the first of a series of guest blog posts, based around the “Remember Who You Are” riff I’m always going on about. Today’s post comes from my friend and mentor, Seth Godin, the great marketing author.]

Forget who you are

When most people say, “remember who you are,” what they’re really saying is, “remember who we think you are, remember who you were born to, don’t overreach, wait your turn, don’t get uppity.”

They rarely mean it the way Hugh means it. Hugh, I think, is saying that you are whomever you decide to be. That’s a statement of astonishing audacity, one that could only be said by an artist and understood by one as well.

I have no illusions about the mobility of our society. While it is far more flexible and open than some societies in the past, there are huge impediments to entering a different class.

And yet…

And yet art in all its forms belies that. Art, whether it’s the drawing art that Hugh does or the business art that a great Wall Street trader does or the customer service art that Tony Hsieh at Zappos espouses… that sort of art isn’t limited by social boundaries. When you connect and change another human being, when you create upside wherever you go, then who you are is decided by you, not by them.

Let’s change the mantra, then, from “remember who you are,” to “decide who you are.”

Decide to be the generous, change-making, scarifying, delighting, over-the-topping dreamer you’re capable of being.

-Seth Godin

[Download the high-res “remember Who You Are” poster here.]


  1. Seth, Hugh,

    How do you personally go about ‘deciding who you are?’

    What practices in your life help define that?


  2. I love this image and have it as my wallpaper on several devices.

    My take on it is to find the nexus between who you are inside and where you are going. A reminder to stay grounded and true to yourself while exploring new ideas and directions. Hopefully you can enjoy the dichotomy.

  3. Hugh, Seth,

    I see an artist as a field of warfare, the scarred landscape and where two opposing sides battle it out for supremacy. The wounds that may or may not be visible as well as the advances are recorded for generations to come in the work that outlives the maker. I guessI agree with you that we are defined by the battles we are willing to take on, but I guess what seems to be missing here is awareness. I did a piece a few years back called “ignorance is bliss.” I think what I liked about it is the fact that I portrayed that lack of awareness is ignorance in a way and this ignorance can spawn happiness, sometimes brave acts and battles can be fought by the ignorant… but is the Saint or Lama who makes the right choice more brave than the heavily flawed person who makes the same choice? I don’t think they are… I agree we are defined by our choices but what about choice and awareness? Remember who you are requires not only choices but also knowledge and therefore awareness and therefor a boat load of bravery to boot.

  4. Seth, Hugh,

    Well said. Yes, Hugh, it is a battle. Many casualitys, all personal, but such a good fight in the end, it is exhilarating, not exhausting.

  5. My Dad used to say that all the time “Remember who you are”. I never understood the exact meaning but interpreted it to mean ‘don’t do anything your family would disapprove of’. Now I create who I am but never had it said so well as was said here.

    Nice post.

  6. Well I guess it would work to decide who you are as long as it mirrors who you really are. Too many folks try to be who they are not. I find that alignment with who you are (yes on the inside, meaning values, strengths and natural quirks) is much more effective than trying to be someone who you are not.

    I think the remember admonition is accurate because it’s pretty obvious that after cultural conditioning most of us have lost touch with out original authentic luster. In a post I put up today I actually shared four ways to be who you really are.

  7. “remember who you are” is something I say to myself every day. It’s inspiring, it reminds me, I’m the one who decides what path to take.

  8. As someone in the middle of deciding who I am this post really resonated with me. Thanks for getting Seth to guest post. Love your work!

  9. I prefer Hugh’s “remember who you are” to Seth’s “decide who you are” as a first point of reference…the reason being that remembrance has the ring and truth of remembering our essence (our godness, our goodness etc.) Then, in our remembrance of our “real” self…deciding who to be is much easier and a whole lot
    of fun! Anamnesis! One of my favorite words.

  10. Love this post.

    One of my favorite Placebo songs has a similar line I think about all the time:

    “Don’t forget to be the way you are”.

  11. Love it.

    I think for me what’s really struck a nerve is remembering who we all were at one point in our lives

    We were all curious and expressive artists at one point without any predetermined assumptions about the worlds limits or possibilities.

    Somewhere along the way we lost that. It was hammered out of us. I don’t think we necessarily forgot who we were but…

    It’s taken me years to come back to this point and not only remember who I ONCE was but also decide to be that person again.

    Thanks Seth & Hugh


  12. Here’s the key question, for me.

    When you decide who you are, do you really build that person from the ground up, based on some idea? Or do you honor the real you?

    The ideal me, according to Hugh and Seth, has boundless energy. She never ceases in her efforts to achieve.

    But if I’m forever productive, I get burnt out and it’s not fun anymore. The real me needs large bubbles of time in which I can hang back for a while, not do much. After a while, I’ll get the itch to be productive again.

    Do I try to force myself into the ideal mold, the one that seems to lead to achievement and success? Or do I remember who I really am, achieve less, and drive myself a little less crazy?

  13. What a coincidence! I just wrote about a similar topic over the weekend – and Hugh, I assumed you wouldn’t mind, I used this very piece of art of yours in my post (With links to your site of course).

    Everyone has a story and an essence, and if you can determine what that is (some people just don’t see it for they are too close), than there you have it.

  14. Dear Hugh & Seth:
    I recently read “Purple Cow” and “Ignore Everybody”. I am on a kick to read books that help inspire me to embark on a new career as I approach retirement from music education, and to give me courage to try out some new ideas. I have had a great career–working in music and yes, working with teens. My new path–helping independent singer/songwriters promote their music and careers in traditional and non-traditional ways. You might call this new venture a hobby or even a non-profit right now. But my hunger to do this came out of getting pissed off about some of the music that reaches radio. But also because I see great talent here in my little state that deserves a bigger, wider audience. As I promote these talented artists to radio, TV and film, I am confronted with rejection sometimes, but I carry on. And those few who allow submissions or even give me the time of day, I celebrate. I was a clarinetist growing up. A private teacher told me I would never become a good clarinetist because of my dental overbite (which was eventually corrected in my 20’s). That statement pissed me off. I worked even harder and eventually proved her wrong. Persevere. Don’t give up. If you believe in your quest, something good will happen. For me, there’s satisfaction in working hard, helping others, and not backing down. That is who I am. Thanks, guys, for your inspiring words.

  15. I’m wiggling with Joy, its my mantra every morning. It’s taken me longer than most to feel like I can be who I am. Not easy when you realise you don’t have to be who you wanted to be. Thanks for it’s a mix between decide and remember for me.