Millions of Americans are very concerned with the security of their identity.
143 million people’s information was exposed, leaving many of us carefully watching our credit reports, bank statements, and credit card ledgers. The risk of fraud greatly increased because of the compromise of security and the exposure of identity.
What’s interesting is that this kind of monitoring is actually a wise move, even if Equifax had never been compromised. It took a crisis to remind many of us to do what we should have been doing all along.
It Takes a Crisis For Us to Reflect on Identity
This is a common challenge for many adults. We only change as the result of a crisis. Without a change in the status quo or our normal routines, we resist change and we often don’t reflect as we should (or could).
One area where we often don’t reflect as we could is our identity. We don’t think about how we define ourselves until some outside (often unexpected) event brings new awareness or perspective.
I was talking with a friend a while back. He follows my writing and speaking enough to know that identity is a common theme for me. While he appreciates what I’ve shared, he has often felt like those words are more for others than for himself. That is until recently.
Earlier this year, this friend began exploring a new line of work, where he’s starting from ground zero. He’s figuring things out as he goes. And he noticed that the same kind of identity issues he had when he was a teen or first getting started in his career, he’s now having again.
5 Lies We Believe About Our Identity
As he was sharing the identity pitfalls he was facing, it reminded of a message I had read from popular priest and author, Henri Nouwen. The piece explored the lies we believe about our identity. I read Nouwen’s list of lies and added some ideas of my own.
I was going to share this list with my friend, but I realized we all could use this list. So, buddy, I know you’ll read this. Thanks for sharing your struggle with me – you’re helping a lot of people today!
1. I am what I have.
When we buy into this lie, we accept the message of extreme consumerism. We think accumulation and pursuing the cutting-edge will leave us feeling more secure. But as we realize that whatever we get either breaks down or becomes obsolete quickly, we feel more insecure than we did before we got that thing.
2. I am what I do.
Whether it’s a job, a title, or a role, we’re really good at defining ourselves by what we do. In a world where we either retire, age out of the ability to do our job or lose that role in an unexpected way, this is tremendously dangerous. We may introduce ourselves by what we do, but our true identity cannot be summed up in what we do.
3. I am what other people say or think of me.
Due to social media and modern technology, it’s never been easier to know what others think of you. We buy into the lie that popularity, approval from others, and their acceptance define us. The sad reality is that when we buy into this lie, we live for the approval of others and die from their rejection.
4. I am nothing more than my worst moment.
We’ve all had moments we wish we could take back. Some of us have moments we feel like ruined our relationships, our futures, even our lives. In light of those moments, it’s easy to be deceived into thinking the whole of who we are is nothing more than our worst moment. But who we are is bigger than any one moment. As long as we’re breathing, there are more moments to experience this reality.
5. I am nothing less than my best moment.
This might surprise you as an inclusion in this list. But we often build our identity on our successes and greatest moments. As equally dangerous as being nothing more than our worst moment, an identity based on success is fragile and fleeting. A moment or achievement of success does not fully define us, as it likely won’t endure and it can be eclipsed by the accomplishments of others.
I Bought Into These Lies. What Now?
If you’ve nodded your head or felt like I was reading your mind over the last couple minutes, I hope you know that you are far from alone in your struggles.
NOTE: What I’m about to share in the remainder of this post is an expression of my faith as a follower of Jesus. As several surveys over the years, I know that the vast majority of readers here at ScottSavageLive.com are followers of Jesus. But I also know those readers who are not followers of Jesus, yet appreciate the respectful way I talk about those who don’t share my faith. It’s impossible for me to talk about the subject without considering it in light of my faith and this is the context for the wisdom I’m sharing below. Even if you don’t share my faith, I hope you’ll find some value in the rest of this article.
In his book, Kill The Spider, author Carlos Whittaker talks about how we conquer the lies in our lives. He has a three-step process which I’ve found helpful. He says we must identify the lie, renounce the lie, and replace the lie with the truth.
If you have bought into one of those 5 lies listed above, I want to encourage you to follow Carlos’ advice. Today, I encourage you to name that lie. Whether you say it out loud to yourself or tell a friend, call out the lie. Then, renounce it. Decide the lie will no longer drive or burden you. And then determine to replace it with the truth.
If we are going to replace those lies with truth, here’s how I would define those truths.
The 5 Truths About Our Identities
1. There’s no product which will make me feel secure in who I am. Who I am is a gift I’ve received from God.
The things we buy make great tools but terrible masters. While something I buy cannot secure my identity, my identity in who God says I am is secure. Who God says I am is the truest thing about me and the greatest gift you can receive too. When we pursue that kind of security in a product, we’ll always end up disappointed.
2. What I do flows out of who I am.
You aren’t what you do because what you do can always be taken away or lost. But who you are is the source of all you do. When what we do becomes an expression of who we are, not an effort to secure who we are, we find a new level of freedom and confidence. We talk about other people who are comfortable in their skin or defiantly joyful. This kind of experience is available when we live from our true selves rooted in who God made us to be.
3. I can either live for the approval of others or I can live from the approval of Jesus.
I’m not normally someone who is a fan of distilling every issue down to a binary option. But I do think there are certain instances where it really is that simple. The options are starkly different – one is the path to frustration and the other is the path to freedom. Other people only have power over who we are if we give it to them. I’ve lived for the approval of others…and it’s exhausting.
4. I am not a failure.
Failure is an event, never a person. Go back and read that again. Do you believe it? Due to a continued struggle or a moment you tremendously regret, you might condemn yourself. And while you may struggle to get beyond your worst moment today, you can rise above it in the future. Refuse to accept your identity in any one action – good or bad. Failure is an event, never a person.
5. I am not defined by my success.
While failure is an event, success is a process, not a destination. Anything you’ve achieved can be lost. Others can exceed you. And if you’re living in light of one great moment, and you’re not in your 90s, your future is not going to be attractive to you.
We mock people whose best moment was their senior year of high school. When someone wears a letterman jacket into their late 30s, we have pity for them, not admiration. But, the same could be said of those whose best moment was that award in their 20s, that achievement in their 30s, or that job offer in their 40s.
One moment of success or even a season of success cannot define who we are. Living on the memories of what was rather than the imagination of what could be leaves us becoming more depressed as the great days get further away or more anxious trying to recapture success in the future.
What is Your Foundation?
Our identity is the foundation upon which we build our lives and do our work. When we build on an insecure foundation, which is in danger of shifting or crumbling, we easily become anxious, insecure, afraid, and unsettled.
Confidence in a secure foundation gives us the freedom to be peaceful, secure, courageous, and resolved. We can be brave, taking risks, because we know how we do and what we do won’t change who we are.
What’s your foundation? How are you navigating the pitfalls related to claiming and developing your identity today?