Who do you think you are?
Take your time. This is not a test with one correct answer. And it is very important because how you define yourself will impact how successful you are at your job, how good a friend, partner or parent you are, and even how happy you will be in life. Answering this question, becoming aware of your identity, who you think you are and how it coincides (or doesn't coincide) with who you want to be, could be the beginning of a behavioral change that could alter your life in unimaginably wonderful ways!
Identity is a complicated subjected. You may be inclined to look back to the past for signal events, memorable triumphs or painful disasters to answer the question. You may rely on the testimony of others, a boss or teacher's positive review, a parent's approval of your energy and prowess in certain areas. Or you may project into the future defining yourself based on who you want to be or who others have told you that you will be rather than who you actually are. All of these are important, because they make up the essence of who you are.
How do we know who we are? Our identities are remembered, reflected, programmed, and created. These four sources of our identity can be defined like so,
- Remembered Identity: How do you know who you are? Because you remember events in your life that helped form your sense of self. It's not so important that these are sometimes inglorious moments or events you'd rather erase; you can't forget these touchstones, good or bad. For better or worse, they've left an impact -- and when you write a profile of yourself, these moments inevitably get reported.
- Reflected Identity: What do people tell you that they remember about you? Other people remember events in your past and they remind you of them, sometimes constantly. It's one thing for the executive to admit to poor follow-up. But if her boss or partner or customers tell her the same thing, it reinforces the picture that she already has of herself. You might know this as feedback. Feedback from others is how we shape our reflected identity.
- Programmed Identity: What message do people give you about who you are today or who you will become in the future? Your programmed identity has many sources. It can be influenced by the profession you enter, or the culture you grew up in, or the company you work for, or the entire industry you work in or the people you select as your trusted friends. Each of these can shape your opinion of yourself, some more vividly than you may realize.
- Created Identity: Who do you want to be? Our created identity is the identity that we decide to create for ourselves. It is the part of our identity that is not controlled by our past or by other people. The most truly successful people I have met have created identities to become the human beings that they chose to be -- without being slaves to the past or other people.
Now that you have a basic understanding of identity, my suggestion to you is simple. Review the various components of your current identity. Where did they originate? How do they impact how you see yourself today, and, who you would like to become in the future? If your present identity is fine with you, just work on becoming an even better version of who you are. If you want to make a change in your identity, be open to the fact that you may be able to change more than you originally believed you could. Assuming you do not have "unchangeable" limitations, then you, can create a new identity for your future without sacrificing your past.
So, I'll ask you again. Give it some thought. Who do you think you are?
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Please view the Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog. The next short video in the series Personal Advice: Creating a New Identity accompanies this article. I'll post these blogs once a week for the next 50 weeks. The series will incorporate learnings from my 38 years of experience with top executives, as well as material from my previous research, articles and books, including What Got You Here Won't Get You There, MOJO, Coaching for Leadership, and Succession: Are You Ready? The blogs will also include material from my exciting new research on engagement and my upcoming book Triggers (to be published by Crown in 2015).