Crafting Your Identity Part II: begin with your story

Building an identity begins with your story.

Rarely is anyone given the opportunity to completely reinvent themselves. Perhaps if you're Jason Bourne - but for the average guy, we are an ever-evolving human being building upon our past, not starting from scratch. Your story is made up of the moments and memories of each experience from your birth until the present. Every experience is filtered through past experiences and filed away in your mind as having reinforced what you knew to be true or as challenging what you thought to be true. With every experience, who you are is more fully developed. You may begin to rethink your perception of friendships or better understand the complexities of the female mind (note: I said BETTER understand not fully understand). All of those pieces fit together in your mind, allowing you to draw conclusions about the world based on what you know. This is your worldview - the way you ingest and respond to life.

Your worldview is the manifestation of your story, guiding you through the present, based on your past. I hope you can see the importance of starting here when you set off to craft your identity. In this story of yours, you'll find all of the details of your brand that you have yet to draw together into the cohesive, understandable essence of you. I brought up this idea of your story because from here on out, the only way you will fully develop the answers you're looking for is by intentionally sifting through your past to answer the "why" behind everything you do - everything you are.

Here's a slice of my story that I hope explains why I ask "why?":

When I was younger, my parents thought it would be a good idea if I got involved in a national speech and debate league. Let's be honest - who, at 12 or 13 years old, really wants to write, memorize and perform speeches in front of a panel of judges? No one. Right. Nevertheless, I trudged through, beginning with a dramatic interpretation. Why I chose to do a dramatic piece the first time is a mystery to me - those are the hardest ones! Despite my vast amount of experience in public speaking, I didn't win anything or even break to the next round. Thought my story was over? Ha! I actually LIKED it! Crazy, though it may seem, I decided to do it another year... and another... and another until by the time I graduated highschool I was competing at nationals in a variety of speeches and debate.

I was recently listening to Glenn Beck talk about the nature of thinking and its impact on creativity. He told a story about a teacher who he met at a gathering and who asked Glenn if he was formally educated in economics. After replying that he had no formal education in economics, the teacher replied, "I figured as much. I could tell because I teach a classroom full of students and I simply can't get them to think the way you do." Beck pointed out that the way we are taught to think has a profound impact on the way that we process things later in life. Since he had no formal education to speak of, he was given the opportunity to approach learning through his own rationale rather than a way of thought that was forced upon him.

Through my five years in competitive speech and debate, every idea that I presented was constantly challenged, whether by my parents, my coaches, my peers, other competitors or the judges. Having to understand why I answered the way I did or why I came up with the plan that I did forced me to take a third-party approach to my own thought process. Rather than give an answer and it be accepted uncontested, I had pre-meditated my answer and knew WHY I answered the way I did (often with reams of evidence to support my case) so that I could defend against the inevitable barrage of cross-examination questions and arguments. Asking "why?" is now a knee-jerk reaction in my own thought process because I refuse to waste my time defending a worldview, an opinion or an action that I don't even understand.

This practice is the only way you can craft an identity that is true to you. You must start with why. Simon Sinek, a insightful leadership coach and speaker, gave a TED talk that I believe is worth your time (multiple times over, in fact). Give it a listen.

My challenge to you before you continue building your identity, is to begin developing an internal dialog with yourself to find out why you do what you do. Once you're there, you can begin to uncover the answers that will help you better understand yourself and craft yourself into the person you want to be instead of the succumbing to the person life is turning you in to.