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Billy Morton told me he didn’t want his identity to be found in being a football player. This got me thinking, “What is my identity?”
I’ve been going to doctors recently in a quest for a treatment option. I was diagnosed last October with prostate cancer and was told by the doctor who diagnosed me to not rush into anything.
He said, “Take your time and learn about your disease. This thing moves really slowly. Talk to people who were diagnosed with prostate cancer. Read about it. Maybe even seek a second opinion.”
I did all that.
Every doctor I visited required me fill out a bunch of forms. Every form had this one question, “What is your occupation?” Here were the options: a blank to fill in, self-employed, unemployed, semi-retired, and retired. These are the choices for identity in the world.
So I came to the conclusion, Billy was right. What we do is our identity. But I still wasn’t comfortable with this answer.
Then I thought about his Christian faith answer: “My identity is in Christ.” I do believe this, and there are plenty of Bible verses to support it. None of them use the word “identity” mind you, but they speak to identity in other ways.
For example, the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
But this answer didn’t satisfy my curiosity.
In the book Atomic Habits, James Clear addressed identity in a way I had not heard before. He had a sub-heading which said, “How to break the beliefs that hold you back.”
In this section he wrote, “The tighter we cling to an identity, the harder it becomes to grow beyond it. When you cling too tightly to one identity, you become brittle. Lose that one thing and you lose yourself.”
Some examples of this include:
- I am a football player. My career ends, then what?
- I am a soldier. My career ends, then what?
- I am an entrepreneur. My career ends, then what?
- I am a CEO. My career ends, then what?
- I am an angel investor. My career ends, then what?
- I am an artist. My career ends, then what?
- I am a writer. My career ends, then what?
His answer is to “redefine yourself such that you get to keep important aspects of your identity even if your particular role (career) changes.”
When I started my new career as a professional angel investor, I came up with a slogan: “I help experienced managers achieve their dream of starting and owning their own company.” If I stuck to doing just this, I was successful. When I left it, I wasn’t.
But Clear made an important point.
I was identifying myself too narrowly. I needed to step back from my career, or role as he put it, and describe myself more broadly. I began to think about how I interact with people who are not “experienced managers” who may have a dream to start a business.
I realized when I talk to people, I am always seeking to understand their dream. Everyone has a dream for their life. In my interactions with people, I want to get them them to say it out loud. Then I test it with them, encourage them, and use my network and resources to help them realize their dream. This is me.
So is this my identity?
I thought about this being my identity, but it was also too limiting. There is more to me than this. It is my natural interest, but it is not all of me. So what is my identity?
- Who do I serve?
- What is my interest?
- How do I apply my interest to make a living?
I came up with this definition of identity which includes these three elements.
The next post will explore these three elements.
What do you think makes up our identity?