In recent posts, I discussed identity. Identity is how you view yourself as a person. While identity is how YOU view yourself, we often have identities that others created for us. Further, our identities can conflict.
I did a three-step exercise with myself recently and found it helpful. I brainstormed as many of my identities as I could in two minutes. I utilized “I am” statements to list my identities. Example: “I am a father”, “I am a husband”, “I am a son”, “I am a brother”, and “I am a professor” I tried to cover the various aspects of my life including family, personal, professional, and health. After this step, I got a better picture of my own identity.
The next step provides meaning, importance, and priority to each identity listed in step one. If I am a husband, what does that mean? How important is this identity to me (extremely, somewhat, very little)? Finally, I rank each identity in order of importance and priority. This step takes a bit longer than two minutes. It requires you to dig deep. What does it mean to be a husband or a father? Where does this identity rank compared to being a professor or volunteer?
The third step is to determine if the definition and/or identity is something I wanted to keep, modify, or remove. Of the three steps, I struggled with this the most. It required me to examine long-held identities. In the end, I discovered identities that weren’t my own.
In diving into my various identities, I recognized that many of my identities came from other people. Put another way, most of MY identity was not MY identity. My identity evolved from what others believed I should be. My identity as a husband came largely from what I had observed from my father and what society expects of husbands. Similarly, much of my identity had its roots in how and where I was raised. This isn’t necessarily bad but it allowed me to modify some of my identities to meet who I really want to be.
Perhaps the most revealing part of the exercise concerned my professional identity as a professor. I became a professor, in part, to be a better father and husband. I wanted a career that allowed me to have a flexible schedule which allowed me to spend more time with family. The family was more important work. Yet, over time, my identity as a professor became more intertwined with my employer. Further, being a professor became more important and took up more of my life. Where initially the identity was a vehicle to be a better father and husband, it ended up actually harming the other identities. Had I recognized this sooner, I could have changed course sooner and avoided the unintended consequences.
This leads me to my final point for this post. Identity can be changed. In fact, identity should be changed. The world is changing all the time. James Clear provides a three-step process to jump-start an identity change and creation of identity-based habits. First, name the goal you and/or identity you want to achieve. Second, in one sentence describe the type of person who would achieve your goal. Third, list five very small steps you can take to become this person. Do each step for a week before moving to the next step. After five weeks, you will be closer to the new identity than before.
Do something today that makes you better tomorrow. Grow each day.