Going through life with a nickname like mine means that I have been asked literally thousands of times, “Why do they call you ‘Ace?’” This is the only story I know and it goes all the way back to my Baptism.

I was named Vincent at birth, a name handed down from my father, also a Vincent. He was a builder by trade and named for St. Vincent Ferrer, the patron saint of builders. He started as a homebuilder and moved into commercial construction services such as  acoustical ceilings, plaster, flooring, partitions contractor.  He was a tactician, a process engineer, and a brilliant manager of people.

I inherited this name and this patron saint, but at my Baptism the priest held me up and asked, “What is this little guy’s name?” Friends of my father’s, card playing buddies and beer drinking pals who called him Ace replied, “That’s little Ace!”, much to my mother’s chagrin.

The Identity We Are Given

One day in grade school when I was sick at home, the Principal instructed my older brother to “Take this homework to your brother, Vincent.” My brother responded, “I don’t have a brother Vincent. That’s my father’s name.” Unamused, the stalwart, sharp, and direct nun said in response, “You do too have a brother Vincent, it’s on all my forms. Now take this homework to your brother!”

Since that revelation, I have tried at several points during my life to shift from the nickname to my formal, given name. Needless to say, it never quite stuck.

Ironically, I have spent many years associated with building things as a supplier of construction materials, as a board member of a large scale building enterprise, and as a person thinking of himself as a builder both by name and by heritage. However, over the course of my life, I have steadily become more of an Ace than a Vincent. “Ace” carries connotations of skill and adeptness, and while I like to think of myself as skilled at many things, what might I be an Ace at?

The Revelation of the True Self

My interest in philosophy and passion for seeking and catalyzing transformation led me to the figure of the alchemist. I had previously understood an “alchemist” to be one who could turn common metal to gold, but a simple definition called up on my cell phone caused a revelation in my thinking, both of the definition of my name and my work. It said, “Think of story and character as the tools of an alchemist, not those of a builder.”

Upon reading this, for the first time I came to accept my nickname as purposeful, on target for who I am. It spurred the personal enlightenment that I am not so much a builder but an alchemist. Perhaps my struggle for years to be a builder – by name, reputation, and heritage – created or enforced a self-deception about who I was meant to be from which I have endeavored to escape.

If my past was that of a builder whose tool is a hammer, then everything in my world appeared to be a nail. My singular focus following my father’s death was to keep the family business alive, to do what I was taught, to practice nailing with precision. I did this with great success and was listed as one of the fastest growing companies in the city when I was not even thirty.

But if knowing who we “truly are” provides clarity and therefore peace, then living as though we are something other than this true self causes discord.  This mental transition from Vincent to Ace liberates me. Realizing my own self-deception allowed me to see what is available to me through contrast, leading me to who I truly am. Through seeing what is not true, we can sometimes see the truth.

The Liberation of the Truth

Acceptance of my adopted name is an alchemical shift, but it’s not solely in a name that such transitions are found. The writers and speakers I have engaged with over these past fifteen years have moved, informed, and changed me. Their stories are the molecules of my personal alchemy. In many ways I wish I had met them earlier in life and begun this reconciliation between who I am and who I thought I had to be, but the teacher often arrives only when the student is ready.

As Carl Jung said, “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” Whether between a teacher and student or a coach and his client, this transformation catalyzes growth and creates new opportunities for success.

I hope through my writing and my work to create a shift in someone else’s deep-seated self–deception. It is not sufficient to have these tools or lessons “at hand”; my life goal is to inculcate them so deeply that they become my “way of being.”  To truly “be” is to remove self-deception, to live with confidence not only that we have the tools, but that we are the instrument of the peace and transformation we seek.