Have you ever wondered what makes you, you?
Most of us haven’t given much conscious thought to our own identities. You kind of are something, or you are not. We inadvertently shift and shape our identity based on our desires, experiences, personalities, beliefs, and labels we give ourselves. To some, identity is something we inherit, an innate quality that we can’t change or at the very minimum, is difficult to change.
Contrary to popular belief, your identity is free-flowing. It can and will change. However, even saying this is counter-intuitive because we typically formulate our identities based on self-assessments of what seem to be permanent skills and abilities, occupations and hobbies, and even physical attributes.
There are some fixed elements of your identity. Things like ethnicity, race, gender identity, and sexual orientation fit into the “fixed” category, for most people anyway. For some, it takes time and effort to reveal their gender or sexual identities, which requires extraordinary courage.
The most common component that we think makes up our identity is, in fact, the most malleable: our job title. Identifying your self-image with your job title is easy (and logical). We devote so much time and effort to our jobs. An athlete would name their sport… Or maybe you’re a mother, a father, a dancer, an outdoorsman, a musician, a coach, a gamer, a party-animal, a poet, the list of “labels” goes on.
But what happens when you no longer identify with your labels?
Have you (or someone you know well) experienced a significant life shift, like changing your career or losing your passion? Maybe it’s something like moving to a new town, losing your social network, or facing an abrupt retirement? What about going through a breakup?…
Some people rely heavily on their relationships to maintain at least part of their identity. So it’s no wonder breakups are a b!tch! Broken hearts go hand-in-hand with losing your identity. You can’t help but feel the void.
The looming question is always:
Well, it’s easy to feel lost and get stuck there for a while. This is because we’ve subconsciously enabled the idea that our identity is fixed. We unintentionally give our labels permission to take an enormous role in our identity. It can become depressing and debilitating when you lose one of these labels. Even a recovering addict in rehab will feel the void of losing their identity (on top of the withdrawal symptoms).
Here’s the problem, most of us don’t prepare for the times when our heavily weighted attributes, our identity labels, are taken out of life’s equation. We’re setting ourselves up for some disastrous consequences. When we lose our identity it’s natural to feel grief, anxiety, and depression.
This is why doing Your Identity Audit is So Important.
In 2013 if you asked anyone they’d say, “Mike Shaw is a skier, a coach, and an adventurer,” some might even say “adrenaline junky,” or something to that effect. Life was good back then, drifting from one adventure to the next and spending as much time on skis as I possibly could – Just over 120 days that year!
Being Mike Shaw the “skier,” the “coach,” or the “adrenaline junky” was great, but it all came to a catastrophic end. I lost my identity on that life-changing day: December 16, 2013. Following my terrible crash and subsequent spinal cord injury, the loss of my physical attributes meant my identity had been stripped, no, ripped away. Mike Shaw the skier was no more. No more coaching. No more adventure, no adrenaline. All gone. Man did it hurt! I’ve never felt that kind of pain before. The void left in my life was MASSIVE.
But something wonderful happened… I stumbled across my own identity.
My Identity Audit:
Before my crash, I was a freestyle skier, coach, adventurer, and adrenaline junky. But who was I after if you get rid of all those labels? Injured? Could I identify with my wheelchair? Unlikely, I miraculously walked away from my spinal cord injury.
When you cross out these labels and ask the much-needed question, “Who is Mike under all of this?” you begin to audit your innermost self and expose your core identity.
Although I’d lost some important, defining, physical traits that made up how I once saw myself, I’d never been more certain about who I was at my foundation. Stripping away what now seem like superficial labels exposed my core identity.
It wasn’t immediate. I spent hours in self-reflection, digging through layer on layer of crap before leaning that it’s my core values that make me who I am.
I found that my core identity isn’t who I am on the surface or what other people think of me. It’s my compassion and kindness, my desire to help others, my ability to be a good friend, the way I value my family and friends. It’s also my determination, integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, reliability, gratitude, patience (or lack of patience depending on the day), and of course my brilliant sense of humor and terrible jokes.
It will take you some time and effort too, but you can do it. Reflect and focus your attention inward on your core values – the things that are truly important to you – the things that make you, you.
What is important to me?
What do I value?
What makes me tick?
When I strip away all my big labels,
what is at my core?
Take stock of the things that are important. This inventory of values, traits, and beliefs is your core identity. It’s what makes you, you. When you peel away the surface layers, and anchor in on your foundational values, it is empowering. From that point on you get to choose your attributes, but this time, with newfound confidence. Align your labels with your values.
A broad and strong foundation makes for a tall pyramid. Like a pyramid, when you know who you are at your core and feel comfortable in that space, you’ve strengthened the foundation for your life. Your relationships will benefit, your careers will become enriched, and your level of happiness will soar.
If you have questions or would like to talk about any of this please contact me. I’m always open to the possibilities that connections bring.