This is the central part of the identity project. Where we gather all the Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, and Strengths-Finder stuff together in one place. This is where all the encouragement, dreams, stories, and impressions get drawn as a cohesive visual so you can DO SOMETHING with it. This is the chance to take your entire self seriously enough to map out as much as you know about who you are. On one hand, identity mapping is fairly simple. We ask a bunch of questions and you write down as many ‘I am’ statements as is true about yourself. The trick is to draw out the nuances of who you are, and then be able so sit back and look at the composite with all the potential therein.
In terms of mapping your identity, everyone processes differently. This section takes a wide array of processing styles into consideration. Write words, sketch themes, talk stories... that help you see your self in your own way. If you’re more of a verbal processor, talk out the questions with people and then note a few of the highlights in your journal. If you’re more kinesthetic, rip out a page, origami an identity statement (like, “I’m beautifully tactile”), and paste it back in your journal… Whatever works, work something out, because if you just read through this without writing something, visualizing something, it can become like all those other efforts—where you discovered a few helpful bits and pieces about yourself, but you still end up doing the same old stuff. So be yourself in terms of processing, but take initiative, follow through, and work the details.
I met Ferg years ago, full of heart and ideas. Ideas about community, collaboration and coffee - lots of coffee. He was interested in a lot of different things, but to Ferg, they were related and personally owned in a way I rarely see. There were connections in Ferg's mind between the business he wanted to run and the well-being of his neighbors. There was a history of practice and craft that you could link to his future plans. There was an obvious expression of identity, even though he talked of wanting to do so many things.
If I were to time-line Ferg from the day I met him, I would note persistent themes like entrepreneurial, business-minded, craftsmanship, relational, tough love, coach. He has expressed all these identity statements in the pursuit and creation of Roasted Brown, a cafe and roaster (among many other things) in the Temple Bar district of Dublin, Ireland. Not only is Ferg a world-class barista, he is a curious roaster, a fantastic team leader and community player extraordinaire. Ferg looks at the world around him and asks what he can give generously from his own heart and identity. He looks at the connections he can authentically make and plugs in. Those around him are often inspired to be more of themselves as they see Ferg and family in action. Bloggers praise his work and those in the industry respect his place in Dublin culture.
Ferg would be the first to say how much he's learned over the years, and is still learning. Being deeply complex people, we are constantly unfolding. What I love about Ferg though, is that he put a stake in the ground and put his heart to work, risking loss, taking his time and growing something integral in the world. If you're in Dublin, head over to Roasted Brown to get a feel for what I mean.
CREATE A COMMUNAL PROCESS ABOUT THIS, LIKE THE 100 DAY PROJECT OR INSTAGRAM POSTS...
A FEW NOTES ABOUT 'IDENTITY MAPPING'
How do we capture and utilize the nebulous stuff of our soul?:
How do we harness all those ‘I am’ statements and build on the possibilities they can create? How can we SEE our identity? Mankind has made massive breakthroughs in mapping our DNA and even visualizing our proteins (Proteomics). We can use quantitative neuroimaging to map out the fine detail behind our physical and intellectual behavior. And my doctor talks to me (A LOT) about the detailed markers in my blood revealing how my liver enzymes or cholesterol are doing... But what’s out there to help us track the elusive substance of our identity?
In a healthy system, you would grow up free enough to express yourself, get some encouragement, and practice it until your identity naturally wove itself throughout your thought-life and personality. You’re ideas, choices, and the stuff you made would reveal identity, and everyone around you would get it because you would simply be you. You wouldn’t need a DNA or StrengthsFinder read out, it would be apparent. To a degree, that’s mostly true today. There is a lot about you that’s obvious and wonderful. But we’re also in conflict. The outside-in pressures of the world are contending with our inside-out potential and have muddled our self-image. So, in order to regain a clear image, we need some visualization tools to see what’s become rather dim. This is where identity mapping comes in. Think of this as CT scanning your soul.
Just as a CT scan visualizes the internals of your physical self, identity mapping can put words, pictures, and form to your soul, mind, and body. In the beginning it may seem a little clinical, which it kinda is. But once you have a decent visual of your identity, you can start practicing what you see and get back to that natural cognition / expression. The added bonus being that you now have a cool journal with meaningful ‘I am’ statements and maybe some pressed flowers... The idea is to articulate and share what’s already true about you, but that’s been hidden for all the reasons we’ve covered so far. And as mentioned before, instead of five strengths or a few personality tips, we’re looking for the wider beautiful array of your complex self. If taken seriously, your identity map could be as extensive as your DNA (not really, but yeah, you’re not five things).
To observe the diamond that is you we’ll look at it from a variety of angles. In each approach, we’ll explore different ways of seeing your complexity and slowly build up a compendium of memories, visuals, impressions, ideas, words, etc. The unfolding results will appear random at first, but don’t worry, we’ll tie things together as we go. Give yourself the time and space for this to develop. You may need to resist the temptation to look for quick answers so you can choose the right school, or girlfriend... Recapturing things that should have naturally unfolded requires patience, as well as a willingness to reform your life, so be patient and stay at it.
I AM A MOTHER
I AM A DAUGHTER
I AM A SISTER, A FRIEND
1. LIVING QUESTIONS
You already know I’m not a fan of personality tests that use quantitative approaches. Pre-formatted questions rendering algorithmic results—regardless of how well researched they are—will never draw out the depth needed to make a good run at the future. In order to see your nuanced identity, and the possibilities therein, we need to see where your soul is alive. This is where living questions come in. A living question is one which draws out the heartbeat of your interests, passions, and dreams. They tap into bedrock motivations which resonate within you and spark your imagination into action. They help you break through self-image barriers by allowing you to recall and articulate those powerful yet elusive details, the ones that, I think, hold the keys to your future.
A living question is really a question about the stories of your life. Each scene holds all the dimensions and connections required to see your self in action. Stories contain
the emotive responses (negative and positive) your soul recalls through its selective memory. Meaning, your soul remembers the important stuff, your stuff. For instance, if I ask what your social identity is, you may respond by trying to define a particular social intelligence or a Myers-Briggs result. So far, so clinical. But if I ask you to tell me the story of your involvement in the latest family gathering, you may reveal something like:
"Our extended family got together for an engagement party.
I didn’t know half of the people there and was way out of my comfort zone. There were cupcakes and champagne. The cupcakes were all home made and really exquisite, so I tried just about all of them. Drawn out by those cupcakes, I eventually made my way around the large tree we were camped under and met everyone, trying to connect in some small way. I spent most of the time with people I knew except, for one girl who I discovered was finishing her nursing degree. We talked about her getting work, going to London and specializing... I find that when I can connect with someone who’s processing their future, the facilitator in me comes out. Being in a social scene for the sake of being there puts me off. But if I have a reason or a purpose there, then I find a kind of flow and time disappears."
As the stories emerge, you can see values, motives, repeating circumstances, etc., all of which starts to form a picture. You can also do this by using a photo of yourself from the event and writing a sentence on the pic (Polaroid’s rule for this) like ‘I am a one on one facilitator’ or ‘I am a good listener in intimate settings’. You can break the story down further to foundational truths about yourself such as ‘I am a connoisseur’ or ‘people developer’... The story allows you to see the natural angles or facets of your diamond—usually obscured for lack of observation. Living questions look at living events (past or present) by asking:
1. What’s the story behind your spiritual, social, and personal identity as seen in the memorable events of your life?
2. What were your motivations involved in that story?
3. What were the circumstances you noted and why were they important to you?
4. What were the key words or statements that kept popping up? Ultimately, what were you being in that story?
The rest should unfold in conversation, or meditation, over time. Which as you can see, is not a canned process. Speaking out, listening to, and processing living questions needs to be relational and intentional. So again, get someone close to you and talk about these things. The benefit is that we learn about identity together, and in the context of real lives. Which is a really healthy process, especially because we need others (their support and encouragement) to help build on this raw material later, as we move from seeing identity to practicing identity.
Living question exercise:
Your turn. I’d like you to try telling four different stories (building on your earlier shorter example) of your own successes. Events where you felt you did well, whether it was recognized or not. Try to describe the circumstances, feelings, environment, and what you were doing and thinking the whole time. After you’ve written all four, please go back (hopefully with a friend, or your mom) and ask the questions listed above. Take your time, and let memory and emotion blend back together. Don’t look for answers, focus on the story and let ‘I am’ statements come to you. If you’re an internal processor, you may be able to do this on your own so have a go, but I highly recommend sitting down with a good listener and unfolding these questions together.
Grab your journal, Evernote app, a large piece of paper or whatever to write out these stories and see what identity statements emerge. You can start with story or scene headers jotting down a few words for each situation, like “our high-school basketball championship” (actually, I sat on the bench during ours), or “helping my friends through relational crises”... Then pick the stories you want to explore and carry on from there. Don't worry about format or 'getting it right'. Just remember, write and see what comes to you.
Just kidding, there are no grades here. But if you want to push the living question angle further, try this: Write a short story about your life ten years from now. Describe what you would love to be doing, where you’d like to live, who you’re with, what you’re learning, and what you’re creating... Write it as though resources and opportunities are not a problem. If you got to call the shots, what would your world (not just your job) be like? Then, ask the same five questions listed above to extract some more ‘I am’ statements.
You can start by writing the activities you were involved with over the years. Then look at the work or jobs you've done. Then interests and places you've lived in... You can see various interests popping up. Things that were important in the early years and then stopped... New interests later on... The idea is to look at these events and extract ‘I am’ statements from it for your identity map. Break out the journal and have a go for yourself.
2. TIME-LINING THE OBVIOUS
Another way to capture the expressions of your soul is to look at the symmetry of those expressions. It’s the consistency of your choices and behavior, which then reveal echoes or feedback from your soul. Because, one way or another, over time you will be yourself. Once you weed out the reactions and forced personas, you’ll be left with what is obviously you. This symmetry can be visualized by using a time- line exercise my friend Stine showed me. It allows you to see the overview of key memories (things your soul chooses to remember) over many years. As you write and review them, you start to see your symmetry in these choices, actions, and therefore, identity statements.
Here's an example
of my time-line.
at seven years old
Stole a Derringer (a super small pistol) from my dad’s desk and shot it into an orchard at the end of the street
(I am daring, risk taking, stupid, alone)
at eight years old
Went to the playground and saw Glenn
Campbell. She and I were the only ones there. I went back regularly for the next month hoping she would show up.
( I am alone, risk, one on one, felt stupid...)
at twelve years old
My first kiss
(I am, um, ??)
at fourteen years old
Started playing basketball, football, baseball and did track (high jump and 400m). Constantly doing sports.
(I am a team player, facilitator, friend)
at sixteen years old
Got really good at cheating my way through high-school. Sold drugs, stole candy bars, sold them too. Bought my first car, drove to my first real job.
(I am entrepreneurial?)
‘Alone’ comes up a lot in my events. As does risk and doing a lot of dumb things. There’s some change in here as well (like from being alone to liking teams). What I’m looking for is obvious identity statements, teased out through their repetition. Other obvious truths pop out by their sheer weight in the story. Like, you may feel strongly about something and realize that thing has always been really important to you as you see it repeated.
The time-line allows you to look at your overall development, as well as points of departure. You may notice key events put an end to certain behavior or dreams. Or that moving home changed relationships (friendships lost?) that you never recovered from, in terms of confidence or whatever. This is also really important because you may need to restore something that has dropped off the map.
3. IDENTITY V. INTERESTS
All this may start to look a little random, but remember we’re intentionally not going for a linear approach, we’re looking for as many facets of your diamond as possible. Once we have that, we can take these different approaches, and the details they reveal, and put together a larger visual / map of your identity.
So, another way to add identity statements to your overall map is to look at things you want to do and divide them between interests and identity. Interests are things you like, but may not “be”. Identity is what you are, or are restoring. For instance, I like music, but can barely think and chew gum at the same time, so I’m never gonna be good at playing the piano or guitar. I may, however, be able to write lyrics for a musician or help promote a local band. Knowing the difference between what I like and what I am helps me make much better choices.
Interests can often form from identifying with the successes of others, or people we admire. However, our admiration isn’t always based on our similarities with them. It’s mostly that we admire their ability to be themselves. And since we tend to be outside-in types, we sometimes think their job or talent was the key to their happiness... and maybe we could get some of that? I think the real reason we admire them is because they get to walk on their own water. So, when you look at your list of interests, you have to cross out the ones based on comparison or mere appreciation, and tunnel deeper on the ones that come from your soul.
Other interests develop by simply appreciating something. You don’t have to read into it too deeply, you may just like something... It may be a shadow of what you’d like to create, and so using it as a starting point is totally okay. Just make sure you are pursuing a better understanding of self and not trying to emulate someone else’s success. Here are some tools to do just that. Grab your journal and maybe use a two page spread or a larger sheet of paper - you'll want to create three columns and:
A. Start by listing 10 or 15...
...things you’re interested in in the first column. Don’t read into anything too much or not write things down because you’re embarrassed. Just go with your heart and make the list. Do this before you read the next point. No peeking!
B. In the second column,
write down what you’ve actually done with the corresponding interest in the first column, and how much time you’ve spent doing that thing. If it’s really you, you will have found a way to add it to your life.
C. In the third column,
write down identity statements, or the talents, each thing on your list may require. So for instance, as an interest I would write down ‘being a chef’. So, in the third column I’d write ‘creative, a risk taker, artist, craftsman, hard working’ (the last one aces me from that job, dangit).
D. Now, go over the list again...
...and circle all the identity or talent statements you know to be you. The ‘I am’ statements that line up with your soul are the ones you’re really passionate about,
The net result should be a few more ‘I am’ statements and a growing understanding of the difference between interest and identity. If you’re both honest and brave these questions will give you some bearings. And remember, just because you haven’t spent time developing something, doesn’t mean you will never be that politician or horse whisperer. Some dreams never get realized because of a lack of encouragement, etc., so don’t let go of something based on your answers above. Maybe this exercise reminds you of something you know you are and need to rekindle? One way to really know, is try something you’re interested in for at least a year. That’ll sort out the question.
* Background on the next section of naming your spiritual, social and personal identity. Please click here to read first.
4. NAMING YOUR SPIRITUAL IDENTITY
While the spiritual nature of mankind is a huge topic, and outside of the scope of this site, I’m going to proceed on the assumed knowledge that we are all, in part, spiritual beings. Therefore, our identity is partially spiritual and worth articulating as such. I would even go so far as to say our spirituality is actually our ontological identity and the very core of our lives. I also think a key aspect of spirituality that’s becoming more apparent as mankind matures, is that our spirits are always connected in relationship. That they’re tied to (and responsible to) their source. I think this relationship is the touchstone for identity. Our ‘I am’ statements need to connect with others to both make sense of them, and to fulfill them. So when I look at my spiritual identity, I also look at my spiritual connections and relationships to determine who I am. Here are some questions I ask to see my spiritual self.
(Note: This level of perception takes some time to develop, especially the sensitivity needed to answer these questions. After 30 years, I’m still working on it, so give this some real consideration or come back to it later. It is important, but it may not be important for you right now. If it is,
have a go.)
Please grab your journaling tool and see if these questions can help you add to the map:
A. How do you naturally relate to your spiritual connections?
Not, how are you supposed to relate in religious institutions, but rather, what are the natural ways your soul connects. Mine plugs in by taking longish walks, processing events in my life, observing the world around me and commenting in my heart. Listening, thinking—and largely being grateful that I get to consider and be part of the world. This shows me that I am conversational, observant or a visual worshiper... What about you?
For instance, if I sense I’m operating from the wrong motives, or have been hurtful to someone, I can look at the surrogate motive and ask for clarity as to its angelic twin sister. I look for the gold trying to come through the calcified, self-protecting motives I developed in a harsh world. If I’m being inconsiderate, I listen for its opposite truth in me and allow that way of being considerate to come through. If I’ve communicated wrongly, usually due to insecurity, I allow the mistake to inform me as to why I did that, and what that’s blocking. In doing so, I usually find a purer form of communication waiting to emerge. I’ve discovered that instead of being harsh or overly critical, part of my spiritual identity is actually to be a challenger or an exhorter. Both of which can be loving forms of communication, and being loving is the indicator as to whether something is truly me, or not. Conviction for you?
B. What have you heard from your spiritual relationships?
Relationships thrive in conversation, so look at what you’ve heard and how you’ve responded. I know that I am a son, a trusted communicator, and a challenger all based on scriptures that have stood out to me or things I’ve intuited / heard spiritually. Which I realize can be suspect (as in, ‘I hear voices’), but when cross-referenced with other observations, and things spoken about me (including all the questions listed above), I can get confirmations as to their validity. Also, over time, I learn to trust my spiritual intuition because it’s based on the broad mix of experiences, hunches, and the mechanics of the soul. What I’m listening for are:
Scriptures, poems, and other writing that stands out and why:
Things I’ve heard in prayer or meditation
Words of encouragement by others who are speaking into my spiritual identity
Conviction of something wrong in myself or my actions, which I can reverse engineer to extract an identity statement.
C. How do I express my spiritual identity?
Or, in which ways do I naturally share that identity in the world around me? It can be something as intra-personal as worship in nature or as inter-personal as yoga with a group of 50 people. I like exploring the connection between spiritual wisdom (which for me is personified in Jesus) and the most practical applications of that wisdom in engineering or health care. That exploration is me being a researcher, or problem solver... I love taking the spiritual relationship I have and the wisdom that comes from it, and applying it to specific daily expressions of media, business, the arts, etc. As I do this, a lot of my motivations and identity emerges, and becomes even more clear in the application of that identity. How do you express your spiritual identity?
All of us are gifted with an internal sense of where we’ve come from and who we are. Our faith that God exists also forms a faith that we can connect to God with our selves and our abilities. Sometimes this faith expresses itself by us succeeding against all odds. This intuitive strength encourages us to make radical choices, despite the lack of evidence that it’ll go well. This intuition needs time to speak to us (in the quiet) and we need to listen to it (intentional introspection). If you were to pause and listen to what your soul knows about your spiritual identity, you may be surprised at what you hear. Didactic questions have no real place here either, you just kinda need to go somewhere reflective and listen, remember...
As you’ll discover, spiritual identity is a nuanced conversation. Do your best to practice listening at this level, as it really is an essential area within your spectrum. Also, if you want a holistic life, you’ll need to engage with your spirit in a proactive way. What I find is that when people don’t intentionally do this, their spirit ends up vulnerable to all kinds of outside-in religious / social weirdnesses. It may take a while to develop, but it’s worth the time.
6. NAMING YOUR PERSONAL IDENTITY
A lot of my identity statements have come from asking the simple questions; what do I love, and what’s really natural to me? This raw approach reveals a very personal angle, which is different from my spiritual or social identity. And in a sense, our spiritual and social expressions both reflect and interact with this core part of us. It’s the unique stamp on our soul which I believe we were born with. Some of the questions we’ve already looked at tap into this personal identity, but I’d like to take this even further.
What we’re looking for here are pure forms of identity, or expressions of identity as seen through the grid of what you really love and what’s most natural to you. I know the question isn’t super brainy, and that’s the point. The things that rise to the top of our heart, and the things that are really natural, are often the most pure and powerful revelations of self. Following are some questions to draw those out. I’ve mentioned earlier that we seem to live out the 168 hours of our week in five domains. These five spheres of your life reveal identity based on what you think is important hour by hour. Take some time with these questions to observe both your past and present choices in the five domains listed below. We’ll also use these five areas of your life to explore your future options in the next two sections. And, you can use some of the answers you’ve already written from previous exercises, but I’d also like you to stretch out your inner knowledge a bit here. Your imagination is well connected to your soul and will reveal a lot, given the chance. Sometimes our imagination is fueled by our insecurities, so be careful (like imagining a life of escape or comparison to others)... Otherwise, give yourself room to dream here, especially about what you love and what’s natural to you in:
(NOTE: I realize that all these questions could be stacking up on you. Please pace yourself, set weekly meetings with a friend or whatever you need to do so that you don’t get swamped by all the questions. This process could reasonably take a year to go through so just move at a reasonable pace.)
A. YOUR CREATIVITY
Some people are artistic, but everyone is creative. How do you express your creativity? Like, if you got to make anything you wanted and had all the resources, people, and time needed, what would you make and why? Or, what have you made in the past that you really liked and what can you see in yourself through that project or process?
Don’t judge your outcomes or compare what you’ve made to others— we’re all growing up—just look at your motivations and the natural expressions behind those projects. In the future you’ll be able to develop your creativity based on these ‘I am’ statements. For instance, a friend of mine brews his own beer. It’s pretty good as it is now, but as he takes this part of himself more seriously, the beer will get better and he’ll be happier (because those two things are related, right?).
Eventually, he can be the toast of his own parties (Or of the nation, like for instance, Ian Williams who spent many years working in the brewing industry, becoming the first person in New Zealand and the youngest person in the world to achieve Master Brewer status. He then came back to NZ to create what’s probably the best home brewing technology in the world, called the WilliamsWarn.). In the hours of your day, how do you like to express your creative identity and what ‘I am’ statements can you extract from that?
D. YOUR WORK / JOB
Tapping into your imagination again, if you could do or create any job you wanted to, what would that job be and why would you love it? The ‘what’ shows what you would love to do when it comes to work. The ‘why’ reveals motivations and values. Both of which can easily reveal ‘I am’ statements. For instance, I would love to find cures to unsolved diseases. And while most of my other identity statements and my intelligences show that I do not have the capacity to do this in the traditional manner (medical research, etc.), it does show that I’d like to be a healer, a champion of those in need... Using your imagination gives you a no-holds-barred approach to the kinds of vocations (callings) which your education or social status may exclude. Dreaming about how you’d love to work gives your soul a chance to tie a lot of your diversity together into a focused effort. An effort that could pay off in an extraordinary way by achieving the same goals traditional paths may have blocked.
B. YOUR EDUCATION
A lot of us left our education behind when we left school. Which is a shame, because our minds are like muscles that function best when they’re continually being used. One of the reasons a lot of people disliked some, if not all of their education, is that they weren’t in touch with their intelligences / learning styles, or their school didn’t facilitate those styles. As we mentioned in the earlier section on restoration, you may need to look at ongoing education from a fresh perspective. Your way of learning needs to be acknowledged and restored in order to fully develop all this raw identity stuff into something amazing. As you do, consider this question: if you could learn about anything you wanted, and in the way you wanted to learn about it, what would that be and why?
E. YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
When you’re with people in general, what do you love about being with them and why? I’m not asking what you’d love them to be like with you or what you’re looking for in a relationship, but rather what you deeply care about and are totally committed to. And not who, but what.
For instance, I love listening closely to people, hearing their story, and seeing if I can help in any way. What’s natural for me is to facilitate and build on their own story. When we’re secure as people, and know our own significance, we’re free to give that part of us in relationship to others. So how are you when you’re at your best? Perhaps you could write a list of all the key relationships in your life, and note next to each one what you love about being with them and how you’re your most natural self around them. For instance:
Who I am with them
C. YOUR ENVIRONMENT
Many of us have grown up in more than five homes. This often translates into a transient view of our environment (the space we live in, the land around it, and the community around that...). Which makes it difficult to see your self in these spaces since they’ve become a moving target. So one of the ways I’ve managed to imagine and then practice identity is to design my own environment, and see what that says about my sense of self in place.
Tom Sine, an old friend of mine, once taught my marketing school students this exercise. I mention him because he continues to be a pioneering futurist and an exceptional community player, especially in the field where sustainable lifestyle meets a living spirituality. Check out Tom and Christine Sine’s work at www.msainfo.org
Once I have a sense of my identity working itself into my home, I can then set about re-creating the space I want to live in. Your sense of home encapsulates a lot of different aspects of identity, in particular, the lifestyle most natural to you. This includes how you’d like to live from day to day, who you would relate to, and how you would work (I work from home most of the time). Try this then: take a couple of pages in your journal and make a simple floor-plan of the home you’d love to live in. Write in each room notes about what would be there or cut out clippings from magazines showing the furniture that matches you, the art on the walls, the music playing. Where would the kitchen be and how big is it in relation to the other spaces? What other rooms are in that home and is there a place for kids to play / create in?
Visualize this as you like and journal what this place says about who you are. As in, are you a parent, furniture restorer, mechanic, house church pastor... After you’ve drawn your house, go back over the drawing and write down what’s going on in those spaces. If you take identity statements like, ‘I am a writer’, and look at your home design, you may write a little note in the home office of your drawing like “Here’s where I blog about raising kids in the city”. Stuff like that. Try to write about things you’re being and doing in those spaces 15 years from now. See what happens.
Over time, you can come back to the stuff you’ve written, drawn, or pasted into this part of your journal. What you’ve done so far may be really messy, sparse, or super well structured, according to your style or where you’re at right now. Don’t read into the results just yet. You can keep adding to it until you’re happy to go to the next phase (the story telling and planning part). But in order to get the broadest platform possible, I’d like you to add anything else you’ve discovered by using other means. Maybe there’s something we’ve not listed here that you’ve found really helpful and need to add to your journal? The next section will give you some space and questions that may help contextualize / meld the other inputs in your life into the broader direction we’re taking. At any rate, well done for getting this far!
5. NAMING YOUR SOCIAL IDENTITY
Your creation was a bit of a team sport. You were formed in family and born into community. Your body needs physical interaction to survive and your identity needs relational connections to see itself, and express itself, to be healthy. Your well being is based on the way you interact with and care for your tribe, and therefore, you’re naturally wired to relate. I call this part of your internal wiring a social identity. It’s a combination of unique qualities that form the way you relate when you’re with “us”, or are “us”. In any group situation, this form of identity is obvious, usually more so to those around you than to yourself. And despite the fact that we sometimes would rather be an island, it’s impossible to not have a social identity. This isn’t to say we’re all extroverts, but rather that we all have a natural way of relating in society. (One of the reasons some of us like being alone, perhaps, is because in many settings we aren’t being our true selves, and we feel awkward?) Knowing and validating your social identity helps you to avoid both trying to be someone else, or being uncomfortable with who you are.
Time to grab that journal again and see if you can add to your list by pondering these questions:
A. Family Crest:
Any one of your various relational networks can become a lens by which to see social identity. How you relate at home, school, work, etc. all draw out different aspects of your more collaborative ‘I am’ statements. But the one I’d like to start on is your name in the family. Your familial name is encoded with a wide range of identity statements. The myriad ways you relate to your family are often summarized in what you’re called. I’m not talking about the name on your birth certificate, although some parents carefully consider and choose that based on an intuition about you. I’m speaking here of what you’re called by those who see you being yourself day in and day out. A problem with this though, is we often have two family or social names. One name is what we get called when siblings want to be mean, and the other is who we truly are. Often, these two names are related so it’s difficult to extract the proper meaning. So here are some questions to unpack social identity as seen through the lens of your family:
What names do your family call you? Write them all down (including the slightly negative ones). Look for the truth behind any given name and see if it resonates with you. If so, add the statement to your overall map later. For instance, my sister tells me I have an answer for everything. It comes out as a criticism because I can act all-knowing at times, but the name behind the critique is pretty accurate. I am knowledge-able, or able to absorb and synthesize knowledge. If used properly, I am wise, I am a researcher and if given the chance, a teacher or trainer—which is probably the aspect that bugs her because she never asked me to unleash my knowledge about a better way for her to cook :-)
What kind of son / daughter / sister / brother / aunt / uncle / cousin are you?
How would you describe the way you relate in these various roles. I once took my nephew to his first Barista interview at a cafe. I’ve worked with him on his identity map and then his writing, photography, and now CV / work opportunities. As an uncle, I can further describe this part of me as being a coach, champion, provider... How, and why, do you relate the way you do with all the people in your life? I would suggest drawing out a family tree, and under each relationship try and describe how you relate as ‘I am’ statements.
B. Social highlights:
Sometimes it’s hard to look back at your family experiences and remember what you’ve been told or called. Another way to see your social self is to look at family / social highlights such as parties, conflicts, crises, or any other event that stuck in your mind. For instance, when Christmas or birthday parties rolled around, what were you doing / being. Some people are making sure the food is good and plenty, while others are sitting with grandpa making sure he’s comfortable. Others may be organizing the whole thing, or performing a song, or getting many to sing...
Behind each of these responses to the event (if we’re being our selves) are motivations which reveal social ‘I am‘ statements. The one with the grandparents may be caring, considerate, relational, while the person icing the cake may be creative, hospitable, provider... There are nuances of each of these traits that you could take even further by asking how you’re creative, or in which way you like to care. If you find it difficult to remember these highlights, grab an old family photo album and have a look
at yourself. My mom was generous enough to create an album of each of us kids growing up. She also wrote a one page summary of how she saw us which has been tremendously helpful.
Your social highlights were probably captured in some form (video, someone’s journal...), so ask around and see what you can extract.
Please list as many memorable events or highlights as you can, including crises and conflicts. You can use any social highlight (from school or work...) to see yourself through the lens of that event. After each one, try to remember your role, choices, and any other memories that event evoked. Then, try and list your motivations for those choices.
C. Social Reflection:
More often than not, the people around us have a better view of our social identity than ourselves. A self-image clouded by expectations distorts our own inner sense, so we need to enlist some healthy reflections from our family and friends to clear it up. I suggest asking for these insights in two ways. The first is a casual request to key people asking them how they would describe your social identity. You can help them understand the question better by asking for memorable stories and what they thought of you at the time. You also could ask your long-term friends to give you feedback about what they saw you being in those situations, or over the time they’ve known you.
The second approach would be an intentional event, like an identity party. You may not be comfortable organizing this for yourself, so consider having a good friend do this, maybe around a birthday? The idea is to ask people to come prepared to tell you what they see in you (over dinner, at a park or wherever). It’s a good kind
of ‘intervention’ that may prevent the other kind of intervention. This idea draws on the strengths of rite of passage ceremonies; where your tribe speaks into your identity via community affirmation or encouraging challenges. It’s a little awkward that you have to ask, because yes, it would be way better to have this naturally come from others over the course of your life. But we have to do something to get encouragement flowing in the right direction. Plus, identity parties can be a way we can restore rites of passages to an otherwise shallow western cultural approach to growing up. Think about this and please take it seriously. People know a lot about you and while it’s lame that we have to ask, it’s essential that we know.
Also, listen closely to the feedback you’ve already received. In many cases, we have been encouraged and spoken to, but encouragement can often bounce off due to the hardening effect of a broken self-image. Try to remember the things like a good report at school, or just a fellow worker praising you for a job well done. What do those words mean and what do they say about who you really are?
D. Social Circles:
Fanning out now, I would like you to use some of the previous social questions to look at how you relate in the broader social circles you’re involved in. You may reveal some identity statements in the writers group you’re a part of and totally different ones when you are networking in your community to tackle a poverty issue. So what kind of neighbor are you, or what do you do in your neighborhood and why? I write and do some life coaching at local cafes, and I work as a chef, and I respond thoughtfully to vocational correspondence from people all over the world... Each of these things says something different about who I am. What about you?
Going further then, what do you do in your city / region? What are your relationships like, or what are you like at work, church, or in other groups you’re part of? Then, what does your nationality mean to you, or embody about you? I suggest you draw concentric circles in your journal to represent your geographic connections.
Starting with your roles, tasks, or relationships in your neighborhood
at the center, list the ways you relate and work, and pull out some ‘I am’ statements from each one. Remember, we’re looking for who you are naturally in these places, not what you have to do. Then, in the next circle out talk about your identity (or your connections) in the larger community or city. This could be where and why you work, where and how you learn, or something as simple as where you shop and why? Then, use the biggest circle to note your connection to your nation...
Another way to look at this (since this is such fun, right?), is to plot your movements over a week by showing where you went and who you were in those places. Like, on Monday I went to a house warming party because I’m an encourager... Where is your life being lived and why on Tuesday? What you may end up with is a lot of very different identity statements and some reflections as to how your daily choices are stacking up. When I do this, I often change some of those choices to bring my social movements more in line with who I really am.
Social identity is often more about nurture (or being a result of our environment) than a reflection of our nature (our environment encouraging / facilitating who we really are). Taking the time to articulate yourself at this level shifts the balance back to a more natural way for you to know and be yourself in your community. It also gives you another way to see and relate to the other, to see them differently because you are different.
CREATING A COMPOSITE IDENTITY MAP
So far, we’ve taken you through tons of questions in order to draw out a wide variety of truths about your self. It’s been kinda random because we wanted you to be able to look at various angles without jumping to job descriptions or simplistic views of yourself. What we’d like to do now is bring it all together into a kind of identity composite. This map / overview will be really helpful in working through the next sections on themes, stories, and plans. It’s a bit of re-writing but I think it’ll be worth the groundwork it lays for future action, or at least getting a raise. Honestly, a friend of mine took her identity statements to her boss at Levi's in order to better align her workload with her true abilities and ended up getting a raise, and a fantastic performance review.
I’ll include a few examples of how others have done this, and then add some headers to the pages as a suggestion, but if you’re a visual processor, feel free to ignore the examples and map out the composite in your own way. The idea is to visually capture identity across the range of your soul, mind, and strength. To take all the stories, tests, and conversations we’ve covered so far and try to come up with a series of one word identity statements. You can use sentences of course, just try to get to the core of the attribute. You can add illustrations if that’s how you see things, or whatever suits you (paste in some pictures...). But the goal is to see the overview so that you can also see:
• how diverse and complex you are (go you!)
• that you can’t be pegged to one job or career
• that you have relational, creative, environmental, educational, and vocational aspects of identity and that all these bits of you can be used in all of your life
• that if you started to see these as raw creative materials, and combined them to inspire new ideas, you would not be lacking for work, money, and happiness
• You may want to scan through everything you’ve written in your journal so far so you can bring it all back together as summary ‘I am’ statements here.
• Also, this not a test, so it doesn’t really matter whether a particular ‘I am’ statement goes in the ‘personal’ or ‘ social’ identity section, or if you double up. The sections (spirit, mind, body) are there to help draw out the ‘I am’ statements but you’re an integrated person, just use them if they’re helpful and white them out if they’re not.
• Finally, try to tunnel down on the generic identity statements. Instead of writing ‘creative’, try and see how you’re creative
and write a more descriptive statement like ‘composer’ or ‘crafter’. This last point is really important because we tend to oversimplify ourselves. When you start using this map to brainstorm and plan out some future projects, you’re gonna want some solid identity details which spark the imagination. For example, I first wrote ‘teacher’ in my social identity, but as I really thought about it, I’m much better being on the field with people making something happen, like a sports trainer. So I ‘tunneled down’ to trainer and coach, etc. which I then applied to my life choices. Imagine putting a guy like me in a class of 30 high-school students because I thought I was a teacher. Disaster! So spend some time and tunnel down on each important statement. Go until you hit some kind of identity bedrock.