I’ve had lovely time this evening enjoying a meal with a training colleague, over which we discussed many things; personal relationships, work, clients, identity and holidays. Our conversation swirled around identity for some time, as it’s an important part of the work that we both do.
I think about identity as being the very essence of what you are. It’s the combination of all of the parts of you boiled down to their most concentrated form. Many aspects of your identity are unchanging throughout life but others develop over time. I have always been a woman and have become a feminist. Which aspects of your identity have changed and are still changing?
Identity, for most of us, is something that we don’t consciously think about every day. It’s very much one of the programmes running in the background, part of our operating system. Yet if your identity is different from those around you, or is denied, questioned or overlooked in society, then it is more likely to be something that is in your conscious thinking. Whilst travelling in Europe post-Brexit, I have been much more conscious of my British identity. What situations cause you to be more aware of your identity? Are there times when you find it difficult or challenging or would rather deny it? How does that affect you?
Whatever our identity we also occupy a variety of roles in life. You may be a mother, son, team leader, carer, friend or jogging partner. Each role comes with a set of expectations, both our own and those of others around us. Discomfort and disappointment can follow when we start to replace our sense of identity with our role, when we start to describe ourselves as what we are rather than who we are. We may not even notice when this happens as it can be a gradual process.
If that role is suddenly taken away from us, we are lost and can feel isolated, afraid or even invisible. Retiring from work can be a real struggle if you have become your job, if it’s your whole life.
Identity is one of the areas we cover on Boost, our development programme for apprentices, trainees and younger workers. When first experiencing work or even moving to a new workplace, we take time to work out which aspects of our identity we will share or reveal to our colleagues. How we talk about ourselves will change depending on who we are talking to; we are usually more open with friends than with work colleagues. What aspects of your identity are known or shared at work? What other things about you might it be important to share?
Being true to yourself gives you energy; trying to be someone different is draining. If you think you are a different person at home and at work, which is the true you? How much energy are you expending keeping up these different identities?
Our identity sets the course for our values and beliefs, which affect our feelings and behaviour, how we interact and communicate with the world. Being authentically yourself is the simplest way to express yourself clearly, be able to ask for what you need and speak out for what is important to you.
I was at a mountaineering talk recently where there were no women in any of the photos. It had been a big expedition of about 120 people. I wondered where all the women were. I thought about asking a question. I hesitated; it might not have been the right or appropriate question; then mentally gave myself a good shake and put my hand up. The question may have made some people in the room uncomfortable but it was what was important to me, it was the authentic me asking. It was the right question for me.
Sometimes through relationships, work culture or societal pressures we can lose some of our sense of identity. Hold on to that connection with what makes you the special, unique and only you that you are. Make time and space for being you, not the person everyone else wants you to be and not the person you feel you ought to be. Be the person you want to be with your own identity shining through.
Who is defining your identity? Is it you or those around you?
What are the areas of your life where you are choosing not to be your authentic self? What would be the result for you if the real you showed up instead?
What makes you unique and special? How will you show more of that to the people around you?
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