We have a huge identity problem today.
I read this article during the holiday season which stated that 70% of young adults experience some level of social anxiety while in public groups. (Disclaimer: the survey was on the website of an online mental health service, so maybe it’s a bit inflated, but other data from the article indicates it’s a widespread problem). Do you ever wonder that anxiety comes from?
With our social media profiles, we’re encouraged to cultivate our brand every day. We try to project an image based upon the images, articles, and videos we post. As if the brands of our clothes we wear, our homes, cars, and recreational activities weren’t enough, our life online has to be cultivated and calculated too.
This feels exhausting.
As we’re talking about resolutions and change in the new year, I wonder if we aren’t forgetting a more fundamental conversation.
Identity Precedes Action
In a January 2015 sermon at his church, Andy Stanley said, “Before you decide what to DO, determine who you want to BE.” I wonder if we aren’t putting the proverbial cart before the horse when we focus on our purchases, activities, posts, and profiles without first resolving a more fundamental question. The way we answer the question, “Who am I?”, colors every behavior choice and action we take.
Is it possible that many of our actions are simply cover for our insecurity? Is it possible that many of us don’t know who we are or aren’t sure we like who we are?
Consider some of the top resolutions for 2016.
How many of these resolutions are actually related to who we are? They’re all about what we do. Now, if we recognize for instance, “I’m a person who cares about my health”, then it makes sense to consider exercise and diet differently. But how many of us determine who we want to be before we decide what to do? How many of us have actually made what we do the determiner of who we are?
Clarifying and Owning Your Identity Takes Courage
As we begin a new year, it takes courage to ask yourself, “Who do I want to be?” It’s more ambiguous and scarier to ask that than simply, “What do I want to do differently this year?”
This conversation about identity reminded me of a discovery a friend made in 2015. One of my mentors was Ann McCulloch. Ann and I served on staff at a church in Phoenix together for 5 years. She and her husband and children became a part of my wife and I’s “chosen family.” We were the recipients of incredible generosity by Ann and Robert on many occasions.
In early 2015, a mutual friend of Ann and I discovered some handwritten notes Ann had taken. We’re not sure the reason for the notes, but they reflected the kinds of conversations Ann had with so many of us who called her mentor or mom or friend.
4 Statements to Help You Clarify Your Identity in 2016
As we answer the questions “Who do I want to be?” so we can determine what we want to do in 2016, I felt like these four statements were incredibly helpful guides.
1. You can’t take care of others unless you take care of yourself.
-Self-care comes before and is more important than caring for others. Many of our resolutions have to do with our health and for good reason. We are of no good to others if we aren’t good ourselves. Far too many of us have a “savior complex” where we try to rescue and do for others what they cannot or will not do for themselves. Self-care is not selfish; it actually frees us to serve others. Clarifying and owning who you are enables you to carry out your purpose.
2. You need to learn what are God’s problems.
-A lot of us are “fixers.” We like to solve problems and fix things, including people. But some problems are God’s problems, not ours. Ann’s comments should cause us to pause and humble ourselves. Many of the things we worried and fretted over in 2015 should have been surrendered to God, allowing us to sleep and experience peace. It’s much easier to figure out who we are when we discover who God is.
3. You can only be what God designed you to be. You can’t be anything else.
-We don’t have to be someone else. We get to be who God designed us to be – an incredible creation who is enough. While it’s easy to be jealous or envious of someone else, we get to be the person we were designed to be. Nothing else will feel as exhausting and fake as attempting to be someone we’re not. If there’s one thing you do in 2016, save yourself the frustration of wearing masks to please others.
4. If you don’t know who you are, you’ll always be impressing people by what you do.
-Social media is to insecure people what a liquor store gift card is to an alcoholic – tremendously dangerous. Comparison kills us. Whether it’s moms on Pinterest, students on Instagram, business people on Twitter, or families on Facebook, we’re comparing our normal everyday lives to the precisely-edited, highly-filtered posts of other people. Own who you are and do what you were created to do from that place of security. Insecurity always fuels our desire to impress. Identity frees us to be our true selves.
It can be terrifying to be who you are in our world. Unsure of how you’ll be received and suspicious that your true self doesn’t match others’ expectations, I know from personal experience the temptation to fake it and pretend to gain acceptance.
But each of us deserve the gift of being who we were designed to be in 2016 – with courage and hope. We were created on purpose for a purpose – a purpose we’ll never come close to achieving if we settle for insecurity or even worse, falsehood.