The Power of Identity

Identity may be one of the most pivotal and insightful aspects of self examination for personal growth. Some, maybe not everyone, but a lot of people’s behavior are driven by it to some degree as to how strongly they’ve committed to it, or one side of a polarity.  Some identities are deliberate and well understood from the point in time the choice is made. Some are made to survive, creating compromise and potential for tension. Then some of us make these choices in the dark, perhaps not even fully understanding a choice was made, but since time and circumstance always moves and compels a dance with change, the table is set for discovery.

For example, consider one who feels deeply driven to be a doctor. Now identify doesn’t come into play unless there’s a deep inner commitment. If it’s superficial, maybe lacks congruence with intelligence or the resources to make it real, then the behavior influenced by the effort may be short-lived. However, the committed doctor, or want-to-be physician, will find a wide collection of decisions are posed because of such a desire. These choices coalesce around such a self concept. The “path” emerges, i.e. the binary answers to question posed to people who want to be doctors. With participation of a third force from the universe, this character will morph into a doctor. The circumstances, relationships, and environment this character finds along that path are much dictated by that commitment he or she made around that identity. 

At some point, this person, the doctor, during their studies or internship, will face situations that call for them to strongly defend this identity of BEING a doctor.  The time and money they invest to have this profession, to have this function in society and to have a certain lifestyle, are defining – they narrow the self-image of the person and broaden the recognition of being a doctor to others in the world – that recognition from others.

Hopefully this doctor example lets you clearly see the point, how powerfully identity operates in someone’s life.

Obviously this example was chosen for clarity and simplicity. Not all of us have such clarity over our own identity. Thus this post. Do some digging into the clues around the identity that is operating in you, some clarity and power may result from such knowledge.

If you are authentic – some call it being honest, truthful or congruent – your self view will be aligned with how others see you. If you are a rebel, wanted to be, and are acting like a rebel, and others understand and know this, everything is clear. Now on the other hand, if there’s a difference between these two views, yours and others, that difference will create misunderstandings that lead to pain and dissapointments. When we find ourselves defending in-congruencies, fighting battles to hide the guilt and shame of being in-authentic, we risk disaster.

So unlike the doctor example, most of us find ourselves working through our lives and learning who we are along the way. And there may be multiple identities we form in a balanced life broken out in categories of our lives like personal/family/friends, work, play/recreation, and spiritual/religious/church.

Time and time again I’ve resisted easy opportunities to be awarded certifications and endorsements by external authorities. The primary exception being that I naturally accepted the identity of a father, husband/partner. I did earn a college degree, received an engineering diploma that launched an exciting and great learning experience in the world of the oil business, but I wholeheartedly resisted being a certified engineer.

But one of the most powerful identity experiences in my life was when I refused an offer for an illegal gift, a sports car, to play college athletics for a particular university on scholarship. The celebrity coach who made the offer was shocked by my swift and immediate reaction. I didn’t even think about it. Looking back 40 years, it wasn’t my moral compass that was speaking. The larger part of me was not going to be owned or compromised. The part of me that was forming was not going to be pinned down as a college scholarship athlete, to being compromised for a sports car, to selling out – but for what? My gut said it was a bad trade. To be identified as a football player at the next level (beyond high school) would require more effort and more passion than I really had for the game or profession. The recognition and attention was flattering, very tempting. But it wasn’t authentic to who I was. And even though I didn’t clearly understand any of this in my head at the time, i.e. couldn’t explain it, but my gut led the way. My behavior was revealing glimpses of who I was coming to be.

This inner guidance system kicked in. My guidance was not from my head or affirmations or from some course on winning in life. My gut stormed forth with an explicative response to that celebrity coach that rejected the idea of compromising myself, selling out, of committing to something that wasn’t right for me at the time. 

The “act” that I had been putting put on in high school had served a purpose. It really brought me an outlet for my rage and to deal with the confusion I was encountering. It also protected me from the consequences that the violence and recklessness might have found in society, if not let out on the gridiron and basketball court.

Into mid-life I continued to search for who I was, my true identity, assuming some to a degree for survival, but resisting most where the trade seemed unfair to my inner life, my spirit and my gut. My career in the oil business, for example, was seeded by loving insistence of my father and then later, my wife at the time. I found myself starting a family – so my biology and values produced an identity that provided for relationships and obligations in life, then for a couple of long term relationships and six children. This identity I had of myself pressed me to assume and commit for years as a reluctant petroleum engineer and eventually, an oilman.  It served it’s purpose, but the when circumstance allowed that identity to collapse, it did, revealing a deeper fundamental and more richly authentic understanding of myself.

As I examined the creation of character in film acting with various techniques most of which stems from Eastern Europe mixed with some ancient practices and Jungian psychology, there are so many points of view to consider – the physical appearance and movements, the biases and preferences, the speech and voice, the values, as well as the failures and successes in the past, with how one relates to oneself, to others and to the environment. For me, this “how one relates to oneself” is the core point of entry into the psyche – that point of focus which reaches into all these other components the comprise the character.

You will find it quite difficult today to NOT identify. If you try, the process may demand that you resist fighting battles, investing emotionally into arguments that feed an identity, even to forget about right and wrong. Such an experiment with yourself might even require that you forgive yourself and others. It might even demand you to drop your sense of justice and fairness. This will take some time, self observation and working with some feedback loops for perspicacity.

Now, knowing who you really are is not for the faint of heart. Obviously, we are not all chasing the Holy Grail by the way we are living our lives. If someone makes it easy or condenses it into pill-form, we might just take it, or purchase it with our money – but it’s an Indiana Jones adventure that seems impossible to most. But this guy (me) is trying to break that rule, make it more practical and safe for you to achieve something highly unusual and unique with your life.

But if you or life handed you the red pill (reference movie “The Matrix”), considering these approaches to understand identity may serve you. Keep in mind there are two pills in the movie. If everyone chose only one, there probably would be no second pill, only one. Also consider the movie may be oversimplifying! There may be a green, purple, pink or violet that’s just perfect for you.

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