Don’t Hack Your Own Identity

Every week we hear about the hacking of another company, exposing customer identities to ill-doers. Experts are always at the ready to advise affected listeners on the steps to take to protect themselves. While your legal and financial identity is very important, the “identity” I want to talk about is the one you see in your mind’s eye whenever you consider yourself.

Your personal and professional identity – the elements that make you uniquely you – is just as vulnerable to hacking. Ironically, the most dangerous hacker lurks right there in the mirror.

Your beliefs and character, the stories you tell yourself, your values, your family of origin, and your environment all shape who you are, and your identity shifts and changes over time, intentionally or not. Think back to who you thought you were when you were a teen, and then think about what you know about yourself today.

We adopt behaviors as we grow in our roles.  For example, we work on “executive presence” as a way that embodies executive confidence and gravitas.  As an entrepreneur, we embody the vision and drive to create something from an inspired idea, and we differentiate ourselves from hobbyists by making our visions thrive as sustainable businesses.

Sometimes we look at others who have had success and decide we want to be them.  We adopt behaviors and ways of being that seem to work for them, but are not us. Sometimes we try to fit into a corporate culture that is drastically different from ourselves, and eventually the misfit rubs blisters of low morale and productivity.

Our identities are wrapped up in the stories we tell ourselves. I hear clients say things like, “I’m not coordinated enough to play a sport,” and “This idea isn’t good enough to build a business around.” We all have stories we tell ourselves about our life and work – stories that discourage us and hack us down. But we all can change them, and create a truer, more optimistic identity by taking some risks and making a shift in the stories we tell ourselves.

It’s useful to spend time in reflection and taking stock of your core identity – your “non-negotiables” and the best you have to offer the world. Combine your observation of who you are with how others say they experience you. There often is a gap between those two perspectives, and if we know how we want to show up, it’s easier to make adjustments and acknowledge our beliefs and behaviors that limit our ability to be the best possible “us” we can be.

Here are a few tips:

  • We all have the opportunity to evolve. Think about where you are today and how you want to evolve.
  • Think about what it would be like to expand, rather than shrink, your identity, and see what that does to challenge you.
  • Acknowledge the stories you tell yourself that limit who you are and how far you can go in the world. Consider how you might change that story, since we all have the power to make those changes.

The image you carry of yourself is just as important to your well-being as that other identity that we worry so much about, and should be protected with just as much diligence and care.