Expand Your Identity

Billy Morton got me thinking about identity. He told me a story of how he quit his football career at Penn State just as he was entering his sophomore year. He was a scholarship athlete with a pro career within his grasp when he quit. He said, “I did not want football to be my identity.”

This caused me to think deeply about identity.

For 25 years I have been a professional angel investor. During that time, I have invested in over 35 companies. I even had enough positive exits to call my angel investing career a success.

But nothing in my life is forever except being a disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, and brother. The rest of my identity changes.

Through reading, thinking, praying, and talking to people a lot wiser than I am, I learned what makes up my identity. I learned my identity is made up of three elements:

  • Who do I serve?
  • What are my interests?
  • How do I apply my interests to make a living?

Here are my thoughts.

Who do I serve?

I once gave a talk to entrepreneurs and said, “There are two types of entrepreneurs in the world. Those who believe there is a God and know it is them. Those who believe there is a God and know it is not them.” I invest in the latter.

From 18 to 39 years old, it was me believing in me which led me on a journey to discover Jesus Christ. Serving myself led to emptiness and unfulfillment. By any measure, I succeeded in life but did not like who I had become. Life became meaningless, without purpose.

By serving me, believing I was God, I saw the world through my lens. Every interaction I had. Every problem I had to solve. Every failure and every success pointed right back to me. I was the center of my universe. The world was there for me so I could make my mark. To make my dent in the universe, so to speak.

But that all changed when I lost my job.

Before losing my job, I lived day to day with feelings of emptiness while being a slave to addiction. Every day I got up and did it again. I was living a life of “ought.” I did what I ought to do, every day, day in and day out. Losing my job brought me into focus, and I could not ignore what I saw.

Me being God was not working. I tried it for 20 years and came up empty. After gaining sobriety in AA, a conversation ensued in one of the meetings on “Who is your higher power?” This discussion had me ask myself, “So who is this God who saved me from alcohol?”

Asking this question earnestly led me to Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord. Surrendering my life to Jesus Christ took me out of the role of God of my life. It put Jesus as God of my life. This was a big change. Now I was serving Him, not me. It no longer mattered what I wanted but rather what He wanted. Jesus’ lens, not mine, ruled my worldview going forward.

Who I serve is my identity. I am settled on this. Every other part of my identity flows from this. I now realize it is not my life to live, but I am here to live the life God intended me to live. As Paul said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”

What are my interests?

All my life I’ve been interested in people. Over these last six decades, I learned everyone has a story. Everyone has a struggle. Everyone has an interest. Everyone has a family. Everyone has regrets. Everyone has a faith. Everyone has a worldview. And everyone has a dream. These are all the bits and pieces which make up their identity, just as these pieces make up mine.

I like talking to people and discovering their identity. I’m not in the conversation to assign them an identity. I am there to discover it.

I’ve also discovered that not everyone is like me. Some people are flat out not interested in learning more about other people. The beauty of this world is people and all their varied interests. This makes conversations and the relationships which follow rich and fulfilling.

My interest is to understand people’s dreams and to have them say it “out loud.” Then to test the dream with them, encourage them, and help them achieve it with my network and resources.

This is my interest which is a core part of my identity.

Where do I apply it?

I have to make a living to support my family, so I have to apply my interest to some activity which makes money. This activity is called my job or occupation.

Here are the various occupations I have had and, in some cases, still have in my life.

Men’s clothing store clerk
Customer support person
Technical Manager
General Manager
Group Vice President
Chief operating officer
Angel investor
Child of God
Bible study leader
Sunday school teacher
Ministry president
Board member
Business advisor

As I look back on all these roles, I always had the same interest in people and their dreams, just as I do today. This has not changed one bit. What has changed, as you can see, are the roles.

Roles are temporary.

Some lasted a few weeks, some a few months, some for years, and others for the rest of my natural life. But I learned roles change. This part of my identity is malleable and far less critical in creating my identity than the other two elements.

But if I am to operate in the world, this third part of my identity is still a critical part of my identity. After all, it is how I apply my interest, and it is how I make a living. And this is how I serve my God, whether it be Jesus Christ or me.

My identity as a man and angel investor: I serve Christ and help entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.