Why you’re paying far too much for your identity

Our clothes, our job, our language, our bodies, our cars, houses and friends. Everything we have and do in our lives helps to create and present our ‘identity’. The image of our projected selves onto others.

We commit our lives to it – racking up debt, working harder, spending that extra hour in the bathroom, sacrificing experiences and time with loved ones in order to create a picture we hope others like. To adopt and butcher a Will Smith quote about money, I’d like to pitch that, “too many people spend their time and energy to serve an identity they rightly earn, but often don’t want; to impress people they don’t like – including themselves.”

Fortunately, whilst our identity is something that is easily validated/invalidated, it can be changed despite our investment into it. We tend to choose not to because it can be disruptive and it presents hard work and the notion that one has wasted their time. Most people can’t handle the thought of losing the past – so they put their head down and go about wasting the future too. Madness.

It’s very easy to become consumed by your own identity and in some cases this is necessary in order to be congruent with a particular role or responsibility. It’s why police officers in uniform just walk differently and act more bossy when patrolling versus being at a barbecue or why when people ‘dress up’, they feel more important than their usual selves and act accordingly.

More often than not, we’re faced with many scenarios in life where we have to adapt or even completely flip our identity onto its head in order to assimilate.

The ability to change identities quickly in order to suit an environment is a polished skill and those who display it we refer to as ‘chameleons’, named after the lizard that has the ability to change colour to blend into its environment.

Unfortunately, changing identities all the time presents a set of challenges. What happens when your worlds collide, when you can’t be two colours at once? What do you do when one day you stop and try to work out which identity is the real you and which one is the identity you’re acting out?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. At this point, most people often drop the ball because not many people can catch two balls at once fired from opposite directions. They might catch one whilst get hit by the other but more often than not they don’t know which ball their loyalty lies with and they end up missing both.

All pretty silly stuff when you realise later that you can change it and actually maintain one identity – but it takes active effort and discipline to begin with. But only to begin with.

Just like the times when you forcibly prevent yourself from saying that new phrase going around your group of friends or you want to change your habits, you focus hard to start making small but positive changes in the direction of the identity you wish to be.

Perhaps it’s fitter, smarter, funnier, more patient or more diligent, reliable or trustworthy – whatever it may be, changing your identity will have its friction points. Not only might you have to convince those around you who already have an established opinion but you also have to convince the hardest critic of all – yourself.

Just remember whenever you look in the mirror, that haircut, that shirt, that belly and that mannerism are all part of your identity. An identity you manifest, manipulate and modify every day. If you’re not happy with your current identity, only you can decide to change it.

Yes, other people can ask you to change it; other people can even force you to change it but until you are congruent with the change, you will never be happy with it or believe in it.

It’s kind of ironic that in this world of self-image dissonance and in the pursuit of material and symbolic happiness – the key to having the real identity you can be proud of no matter where you are or who you’re with – is already staring at you in the face and it doesn’t cost a cent.

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