Crafting Your Identity Part VII: Putting all of the pieces together.
Identity, it's often said, takes a lifetime to figure out. Truly, this mystifies me. We all have an identity from the time we are born and whether we are 18, 38 or 68, taking time to understand who we are is a beneficial practice. It's true that at 68, we've had a lifetime's worth of experiences to draw conclusions from. But if we are intentional about who we want to become when we're 18, perhaps it wouldn't take us so long to get there.
Over the previous parts, we've broken down identity into four fundamental elements:
1. Our Story
I structured them in this order very purposefully. Obviously, our story is the timeline of experiences that make up who we are in the present. This should be a logical starting point as it gives us a glimpse into what we're working with, so to speak. Starting from ground zero, we're able to take in our lives in one comprehensive story allowing us to evaluate our growth and determine our "why." Why do we respond this way toward affection? Why are we so driven? Why do we hate school? Why are we passionate about fitness? Answering "why?" for ourselves is a seemingly obvious starting point but a rarely-practiced method of thought. By habitually starting with "why?" we bring to life every decision we make. No longer are we an emotionally-driven robot, we're mindful, intelligent beings who make decisions with purpose.
2. Our Virtues
Following our story, I'm convinced that we MUST start with our virtues. Our basis for wrong and right, our understanding of what is good, our beliefs - these provide the rock-bottom of our life. You'll often discover what you deem virtuous when asking "why." As a Christian, my standard of goodness comes from The Creator of the universe. You should heavily consider what you base "goodness" off of for this will influence the way that you craft your life. Think of your virtues as the window into your soul.
3. Our Values
Constructing our values was the next part - values are the personalized "ideal scenarios" of life. Yours might include family, creative freedom, adventure, financial security, community or a host of others. So many people don't know what they want; they have ideas or feelings about what they want but they've never sat down and defined them. Mid-life crisis anyone? Even adults have gone 30 years without truly understanding what they want out of life and as a result they find themselves in lopsided marriages, deadbeat jobs, and generally miserable. Do yourself a favor and figure out what you want now, then you can figure out which direction to take to get it. Think of your values as the window into your heart.
4. Our Vision
Finally, we walked through crafting a directional vision for your life. Vision defines who you are, who you want to help, how you want to help them and why you want to help them. I'm a firm believer that our talent + helping people = our purpose. Crafting a vision takes our soul and our heart and throws them into first gear, giving us a bird's eye view of our life's roadmap. In essence, your directional vision is the Company Mission Statement of YourName, Inc. It's forward thinking, idealistic, and directional but with a grounded understanding of the present. Think of your vision as the window into your mind.
After working through those four exercises, it's crucial that we know what to do with it all. So we talked about creating goals that work. Goals aren't easy - most people are scared by them. But they can not only become useful, but fun! Think of all the crazy cool stuff you want to do with your life. Sail to Hawaii... learn French... design a custom pair of blue jeans... Whatever they are, goals can help get you there. They key is in understanding how to construct a goal so that you're not set up to fail from the get-go.
I hope that in this progression of exercises, you've found out who you are and who you want to become; I know it certainly helped me. Here's the final call - a few parting reminders:
Simplicity > Complexity
Simplicity is the solution to confusion (unintentional rhyme). It strips away the excess, the valueless and the distractions leaving you with the necessary, the valuable, and the purposeful. Not wasting your life is a lot easier when you weed out all of the ugly stuff that gets in the way.
Action > Inaction
Action, even wrong action, is better than inaction, for in that movement, you better understand where you should be going and what you should be doing. It's difficult to see over the horizon when you're standing still but start walking towards it and everything comes in to focus. Ideas are a dime a dozen and are absolutely worthless unless they are manifested in action. The best way to know if an idea is a million-dollar idea is to do it and see if you get a million dollars. You know the old saying, better to regret having done something than regret not doing anything? This is so practical (With the exception of doing illegal or sinful stuff. Don't do that.) because when you're on your deathbed, you'll want to look back at a life of experiences, not idleness.
Community > Isolation
We are communal creatures. We yearn for belonging and for community. Understanding your identity matters very little if you're not able to use your life in service to others. That's why when you're developing a directional vision for your life, the primary focus is on what you are doing to help others rather than on you. Only one part of the directional vision out of the four is you-centric. Once you know who you are, it's time to give of yourself.
∞Δ (constant change)
Understanding your identity isn't about being set in your ways. It's about giving you a starting point from which to blast off. Life is constant iteration. With each experience and with each nugget of information, your understanding of the world expands and your life should expand and adapt with it. That's why this course is Crafting Your Identity not Find Out Your Identity. It's a process that never reaches conclusion. Learn to love and enjoy developing yourself and you'll be well on your way to living life simply and with great impact.