Quick Takes:

  • People often don’t define their own identity
  • We sometimes look to outside factors for a definition of ourselves
  • This lack of identity causes us to feel restless, directionless, and unmotivated
  • By uncovering our core values and principles, we’re able to identify with something concrete
  • This identity, based on personal values, gives life a central point to define its direction

Who are you?

This question, although easy to answer on the surface, has a level of uncertainty. Most of us would define ourselves by our job, our friends, or the place we live. But this doesn’t answer the depth of the question: who are you?

The inability for us to fully answer brings us to the crux of a systemic problem: our lack of personal identity. When we lack identity, we lack happiness, motivation, and direction, and look outside of ourselves in the hope that we can find guidance.

External Validation

identity2It’s not uncommon to base our own view of “self” on the happiness or validation we get from outside factors: I’m a lawyer, I’m an entrepreneur and inventor, I’m rich, I’m poor, I’m a failure. All of these things are what you do and what you have, but not who you are. 

When we look outside of ourselves to find our identity, we’re seeking external validation for aspects of our lives we should be validating internally. If you read my syndicated post on personal values,  you know that every thought we have, every decision we make, or any action we take, should be based on our own core principles and values.

By seeking external validation for your identity – of which your identity derives your happiness – you’re giving your emotional stability to the whim of the world. You’re saying, “here, I don’t know what to think, will you please do it for me?”

Rather than looking for external validation, we should be looking internally for self-love and growth. This way, we are able to derive our identity directly from our own evolving view of the world, and vice versa.

Definitely Define your Identity

In order for us to stop this trend of external validation, we need to define our identity internally. With a self-defined identity, we get immediate direction and purpose, which, of course, directly leads to success and happiness.

Owen, from the social coaching company Real Social Dynamics, tells us to “fill our cup first.” i.e., fill yourself with self-love and an internal definition of self, before looking outside for answers to the same question of identity. To do this, it’s a process of uncovering your personal values and personal goals.

Rather than appeasing society by being what you think people want you to be, it’s important to define the principles that govern your life. This way, if you really end up becoming a lawyer, it’s because you were driven there by personal goals and self fulfillment, and not because your parents paid for law school.

Taking the example above, instead of identifying as a lawyer, you could identify as a socially conscious person who is called to defend the underdog. Instead of looking for external validation of identity (i.e., society wanting you to have a “good job”), you see yourself as someone who follows their core value of standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

Being a lawyer is just the vehicle that allows you to achieve your values, and not your entire identity. So, what are your guiding principles and values? This is where your true identity lies.

The Identity Solution

To be honest, I still lack a firm identity of self. I think to some extent we all do. It’s this internal struggle to find ourselves that leads to a feeling of a restlessness and directionless life.

As Rolf Potts reminds us, “people aren’t looking for normal experiences…people are looking for experiences that make them feel alive.”

identityTo have experiences that make you feel alive, you need to have experiences that resonate with your core self. When you’re able to identify your values, therefore giving yourself an identity, you can have experiences that jive with that identity. In this way, your identity of self directly leads to positive experiences, which directly leads to a meaningful life.

The key here is to self-identify. If we identify externally, we chase after a lifestyle we don’t really want. We delude ourselves into believing we actually want to attain specific goals, and then when we get them, we can’t figure out why we aren’t fulfilled. Well, it’s probably because you didn’t even want them in the first place.

By defining your identity with internal values and principles, you naturally send your life down a path toward goals that you want. It’s as simple as gaining experiences that resonate with your identity, and avoiding experiences that don’t.

For me, I love to travel and meet people. I’m most alive when I’m having an interesting and often off-beat conversation with someone. If I’m able to see things directly through the eyes of another person, I’m happy. This is my identity.

Which is why I’m so adamant and interested in entrepreneurship, especially location independent entrepreneurship. Does thinking of myself as an entrepreneur give me a perverse sense of satisfaction based on external validation? Yes, but I wouldn’t be on this path if it didn’t resonate with my core values of networking, connecting, and expanding my world view.

So what’s your identity? I’d tell you, but you already know you shouldn’t listen. Go out and find it yourself; you’ll be surprised at what you find.