Do you know what your identity is, apart from your job?
Identity seems to be a constant mystery to most, which, given the vast amount of opportunities, jobs, skills and rolls that we play in society, it's no surprise. Our identities are in a constant state of overhaul. I don't think many people, if asked to give a brief summary of who they are and what their life is about, would be able to give a concise, knowledgeable answer. Perhaps, we could give our name, the location of our dwelling, our job title... but who are we apart from those societal markers? Who are we as individuals?
Dan Miller, in his book "No More Mondays," (buy here) states the truth which scares all of us at some point:
Our lives and, consequently, our identities are often made up of a catalogue of experiences, perspectives on the way the world works, and beliefs about what is true. If we took a few minutes to chart out our week and see where most of our time is invested, we'll quickly notice a rather large block labeled "Work." The reality is that our work takes up a majority of our "action hours" - those hours during the day when you can get things done. As a result, our experiences tend to look like a big blur of career moments - that time Dave photocopied his butt and taped it to the boss' door, the time Phillis broke down in the parking lot and three of the guys from accounting fixed her car, the company retreat in Miami...
Then we get let go. Or fired. Or we quit.
Who are we then? Who are we when our lives are uprooted in some formidable way so that we are no longer living out our lives in the same city, with the same company, alongside the same people? It's a valid question to ask because studies are showing that most people will stick around at a particular job between 2 to 4 years before moving on to a new one. If our environment is changing that often, retaining a grounded identity is crucial to our sanity, our stability at home, our relationships, our faith and nearly every other part of our life.
If you got fired today, would you know what your purpose in life was? And don't say, "to find another job." Identity goes far beyond paying the bills and putting food on the table. It drills into your value system and dictates how you consume and react to life. If you had no true sense of identity, your life would mimic its surroundings. Like a chameleon, you would blend in with your environment, taking on the necessary qualities, values, and habits of the people you spend time with. If you were in an office of starched-collared legal experts, you would begin starching your collar and drinking fancy coffee. If you worked in the office of a creative firm, you would find yourself instinctively wearing flannel and growing a beard. You adapt, not because it's who you want to become but because it's what is expected of you.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, you'll find the staunch, set-in-his-ways sort of guy. He's the one that won't try new things because that's just not what he's used to or how he grew up. Sadly, these sorts will find themselves slowly pushed to the outer rim of the circle, not purposefully, but by default because they don't fit in at all. It's not that they had differing opinions and stuck to their guns (that's commendable), it's that they write off new lifestyles without a second glance or giving it a chance (hey, I rhymed!).
Then, somewhere in the middle, you'll find the person who knows who they are - outside of environment, apart from their "squad," uniquely, unashamedly them. They aren't flaky, changing with the tide. But they aren't such a mule that they don't give life its due diligence either. They consume the world through open eyes, using their values as a filter and adapt their lifestyle accordingly. To them, change is the stretch marks of growth - it is to be expected. The man who never changes, is never going to become their best self. Rather, as you learn and come to understand new truths, you sometimes have to rewire your thinking.
Here's where things get interesting - if you filter life through your values, how do you know where your values come from? And if you're adapting to truth, how do you know what is true? The answers to these questions are the bedrock of your identity and can only be found in one place: faith. For the non-spiritual, they have to look to themselves for these answers, but when they do they'll find a wishy-washy identity that's searching for truth, putting them right back at square one. This is what leads to the chameleon-identity and the inevitable identity crisis.
At some point along the line of questioning, you're going to find yourself going in a circle unless you root your values in something outside of yourself; something greater than you, deserving of being a foundation. I know where the foundation of my identity lies - it lies in a being who conducts the symphony of life. A being who brought our existence into reality with mere words from His mouth. A being who understands the nuances of this universe that our minds couldn't begin to fathom and who, in a beautiful twist of irony, also takes notice of (and takes pleasure in) me and you. Wow.
As with any architectural pursuit, once you have a solid foundation, you can begin building on top of it. Though I base my identity on Christ, my life looks much different than others who also base their lives on Christ. The foundation may be the same but the structure, materials, blueprint, use and zoning for our buildings are unique to each of us. Our skills, experiences and opportunities shape who we are but they're all grounded in a firm base. That anchoring brings peace, confidence and purpose like nothing else ever can or will.
Even when crap hits the fan and life looks like a wreck, guess what's still there... the foundation.
That, my friends, is where' you'll find your identity.