The Identity Trap

personal development Jun 21, 2021
person in mask representing identity

To be clear, identity matters. Given the current reckoning around the unfair distribution of privilege, it's absolutely understandable and necessary to acknowledge and honor those who identify as members of historically marginalized populations.

Building identity is an essential and powerful lever for developing worthiness, finding belonging, and forging meaning. Identity doesn't just matter; on a personal level, it matters a great deal for each of us.

And yet...

Identity can become a seductive trap that inhibits the pursuit of developing your potential and delivering on your promise. This is especially true when we identify ourselves around beliefs about our abilities and aspirations.

For example, "I'm an introvert" is a story I frequently hear from clients that keep them from standing up to be seen and speaking up to be heard in their endeavors. Another common thing I hear is, "I'm overwhelmed." Fair enough, even in the best of times, we can be easily confused and overpowered by circumstances and choices. But in either of these cases, defining ourselves this way is a choice, not a truth.

The danger in our identity narratives is that too often, we cling to them as immutable certainties. We place ourselves in a fixed silo that might feel comfortable and true, obfuscating what can emerge and who we might become.

Can you imagine if, as a child, you clung to an identity as a non-talker or a non-walker? What would your life be like if you decided that your status as a non-reader or non-writer was a fundamental and inherent absolute?

There is virtue in zooming in about how we identify. I wonder though if there isn't at least equal value in zooming out?

How can your identity narrative describe not only who you are but also who you aspire to be? Instead of identity silos, how might you hold space for more inclusive representations of who you are? What might happen if each of our identity stories was more expansive?


Scott Perry, Difference-Maker Coach at Creative on Purpose.

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