In the first article on this subject, Identity Crisis: Intro, we introduced the idea that many of us face or have faced an identity crisis. We wonder who we are and how we fit into the world. This can happen at different times in our lives but appears to usually come during or around milestones in our lives. I think it is because once we accomplish or are about to pass a milestone we begin to wonder what is next? We have been striving towards a specific goal for so long and now that it is over we begin to ask what the next step is for us.
In this article we will talk about some of the incorrect sources we find our identity in. This is a universal problem but I will try and focus on three sources I believe may hit men a little harder than woman. They are achievement, money, and athletic prowess.
When was the first time you realized achievement was a measuring stick in life? If you think back I bet it is earlier than you originally thought. Maybe it was a parent, uncle, or grandparent but it happens to all of us. Questions like “what are you going to do with your life?”, “Are you going to become a doctor like your brother?” “You know your dad was valedictorian of his class, right?” Sometimes these queries are well meaning but sometimes not so much. Regardless of the intent they begin signaling us that we need to achieve a certain, usually ambiguous mountaintop in order to matter to those who’s approval we seek.
How much money you have has always been a measuring stick in society for how much you are worth as a person. Especially as men one of the things we begin to think about as soon as we start thinking about our career choice is will I be able to take care of my family doing this? While it is an important consideration it can turn into wanting and needing to make more money than enough in order to keep up with our schoolmates or colleagues. This is when it begins to be a source of where we get our identity and self worth. I was recently traveling through some very affluent areas of Tennessee and some of the homes were just massive! In my mind the devil on my shoulder was whispering, “why can’t you afford a house like that?” and, “some of your friends have homes like that, why don't you?” I would be lying if i didn't say it affected me.
The truth is we all have different talents, desires, and paths to achieve them. A large home may not be in the cards for everyone but it doesn't need to be and shouldn't effect how good anyone feels about themselves. How much money we have is a false sense of identity and if we let it affect our self worth we are setting ourselves us for failure.
While achievement and money may take some time to slither their way into our lives as false senses of identity, athletic prowess starts on the playground. The classic tale of who gets picked first and last for a game in the neighborhood has done its fair share of psychological damage. It continues into high school where the quarterback and star guard are held up as idols for the community and can only get worse into college and eventually the professional rankings. The interesting thing is, even adequately talented high school athletes still feel entitled to a higher sense of self worth well into their adult years. They always seem to draw upon their time as a wide receiver or starting guard on the high school team forgetting that was 20+ years ago. On the other hand, if you never were good enough to play sports or were just a mediocre athlete you still seem to be lower in the pecking order in your circle of peers well into your adult life.
I love sports just as much as the next guy but when you break it down to its core, why do we think someone throwing a ball into a small hoop or throwing an oddly shaped ball back and forth across a field is better than anyone else? Again, it is a false sense of identity and if you are wrapping yourself up in it you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
Why are these 3 topics false senses of identity? Because there will always be someone who has achieved more than you, makes more than you, and is a better athlete than you. Even if you are the top fish in your little pond there are a lot bigger ponds than the one you are in and eventually you will find it out and your ego will be crushed. The other thing is people who find their identities in this fashion are like the guy at the party who always has a better story than you. They always have to one up you and are always concerned with being at the top of the heap. Nobody likes hanging out with those people.
More importantly for your own health you need to focus on loving yourself for who you are. Focusing on becoming a better you and not worrying about these false sources of identity. If you can pull yourself out of those you will undoubtably be much healthier, happier, and fulfilled. Make it one of your goals this to not be defined by these false senses of identity. You are made of more substance than these offer.
J. Matthew King, Co-Founder