by Jeff Miller
Have you met someone new recently? How did that introduction go?
On my journey of learning to be real, the dynamics of an intro exchange sometimes cause me angst. I wonder where my identity truly comes from and ponder how best to describe who I am? Is not my name enough? Why am I sometimes awkward revealing who I am? Why do I cover up feelings of exposure by sharing what I do for a living, what neighborhood I live in, or what affiliations I might have? And what drives this tendency to quickly shift the focus onto what we do for work or our accomplishments rather than on our mission or passion?
Has our identity become more about the sum of our accomplishments and less about who we are? Have we succumbed to only sharing tangible things that others can visibly see? And presume others may not be interested in the intangible things deep inside of us that are hard to recognize at first?
When my wife, Di and I meet new people, she often is the first to engage in conversation and tries to get in as much in as possible. Why? Because in part, she knows that if somehow it comes up that I was a Topgun Naval Aviator, she quickly becomes chopped meat. The conversation quickly refocuses around F-14s and how Goose really wanted to be me. Is this bad? No, but is it really who I am now? No, not really. It is something that was a part of shaping who I have become (whether good or bad is still up for consideration). But, I often try to avoid the subject. That period of my life reminds me of the opening line from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities… “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Although that period was an amazing time that very few have the opportunity to experience, it was also a painful time of excess.
What people can identify most with in our life is typically painful for us personally. We can work very hard to cover it up and have no visible evidence of it in our lives. But, if we are willing to press in and share out of it, people can usually relate to our pain and struggles. We can then begin transitioning from wearing our accomplishments like medals on our chest to sharing our scars.
I recently read Chris Heuertz’s book Unexpected Gifts (highly recommend) and wanted to share a couple quotes from it. These quotes will also serve as a springboard for my next few posts. I am planning to look at a few aspects of identity including: “outside versus inside”, “accomplishments versus creativity” and “impression management”.
First … from Vinay Samuel and Chris Sudgen who suggest that identity is “who we are” while dignity assumes “what we are worth” … Chris further stated: I’ve tried to validate my worth (dignity) by developing a valuable projection of who I thought I needed to be (identity). I’ve avoided learning how to know my true self.
Second … from Henry Nouween suggesting that most of us live in the unstable places of false identities that attempt to conform to illusionary suggestions such as “I am what I have,” “I am what I do” and “I am what other people think about me.”
So how do you introduce yourself and share who are?… may we journey forward in exploring our answers!