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The Identity Trap

To be clear, identity matters. Given the current reckoning around the unfair distribution of privilege, it’s absolutely understandable and necessary to acknowledge and honor those who identify as members of historically marginalized populations.

Building identity is an essential and powerful lever for developing worthiness, finding belonging, and forging meaning. Identity doesn’t just matter; on a personal level, it matters a great deal for each of us.

And yet…

Identity can become a seductive trap that inhibits the pursuit of developing your potential and delivering on your promise. This is especially true when we identify ourselves around beliefs about our abilities and aspirations.

For example, “I’m an introvert” is a story I frequently hear from clients that keep them from standing up to be seen and speaking up to be heard in their endeavors. Another common thing I hear is, “I’m overwhelmed.” Fair enough, even in the best of times, we can be easily confused and overpowered by circumstances and choices. But in either of these cases, defining ourselves this way is a choice, not a truth.

The danger in our identity narratives is that too often, we cling to them as immutable certainties. We place ourselves in a fixed silo that might feel comfortable and true, obfuscating what can emerge and who we might become.

Can you imagine if, as a child, you clung to an identity as a non-talker or a non-walker? What would your life be like if you decided that your status as a non-reader or non-writer was a fundamental and inherent absolute?

There is virtue in zooming in about how we identify. I wonder though if there isn’t at least equal value in zooming out?

How can your identity narrative describe not only who you are but also who you aspire to be? Instead of identity silos, how might you hold space for more inclusive representations of who you are? What might happen if each of our identity stories was more expansive?

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Scott Perry
Scott Perryhttps://www.creativeonpurpose.com/
I help difference-makers invested in social impact work embrace uncertainty and navigate adversity with greater equanimity. I'm a Difference-Maker Coach and author of Endeavor and Onward. I'm also the head coach in Seth Godin's Creative and Freelancer Akimbo Workshops. I'm a husband and father, go for a cemetery run every day, and quote Marcus Aurelius more often than I should. For over thirty years, I found and spread joy as a professional musician and guitar teacher while maintaining a happy marriage, homeschooling our sons, and taking care of business. My process employs principles and practices that are time-tested and scientifically vetted. I believe we enhance our lives most through endeavors that elevate others.

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4 CONVERSATIONS

  1. You are shining light on the dualism of identity:
    as a social construct formed by multitudes of labels
    and
    our believes of who and what we are “on the inside”.

    Is introvert one or the other? It is probably inside but used (and abused) by MBTI to create yet another label.

    How we use the insights all depends whether curiosity is part of our identity.
    It can be a silo
    or
    it can be a springboard to want to know more about ourselves and others.

    • Thank you for your kind words and thoughtful reflections, Charlotte. Yes, I love to embrace contradictions, dualities, and paradoxes AND I love the one you shared in your concluding lines. Identity is a story. Choose your story, choose your future!

  2. Very interesting post, Scott

    Reading your valuable post reminded me o Gandhi and his quote
    Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.

    You areright or if we make our identity based on wrong beliefs then we should check what we believe.

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