The greatest challenge in life is discovering who you are.
The second greatest is being happy with what you find.
Identity and values are one of our 12 weekly themes. This might seem like an obvious and easy topic initially because we all know who we are and we know which values are important to us, right? After all, we’ve known ourselves our whole lives…
Well, sometimes it’s not that easy to find out who we are – who we really are. Quite often our identity is based on how we think we should be, or how others think we should be.
Maybe we are an introvert, but we push ourselves to behave like an extrovert – because we think we have to be one.
Maybe we are shy and insecure, so we drink or take drugs or harm ourselves in other ways – because we want to be outgoing and confident.
Maybe we are sensitive, but we do everything to hide our vulnerability because we think we have to be strong all the time. We might think that feelings have no space in our performance-oriented society.
Maybe we are gay, but we would rather stay in a heterosexual relationship and be unhappy as to deal with the impacts of coming out of the closet.
Maybe we dream of being an artist, but we take over the family business because we don’t want to disappoint our parents.
Identity cannot be found or fabricated
but emerges from within when one
has the courage to let go.
You can continue this list forever … But it shows that identity is not only about knowing who we are, it’s about living how we are – and creating the circumstances which allow us to.
So identity is also about letting go.
Letting go of the belief how we think society wants us to be.
Letting go of how we think our parents or family want us to be.
Letting go of the image how we think we have to be. Letting go of all thoughts and things and people and circumstances which prevent us from living our true identity.
This is where our values come in. Values are part of our identity, maybe even the heart of our identity. What are values? Values are the things in life, in which you believe in and on which you orientate your actions and behavior. Values help us define who we are.
It’s easy to live by our values when everything is smooth and easy and everybody around us shares the same values. But it’s hard to stick to them when things get rough.
It’s hard to speak up when somebody is getting bullied – and you know it’s not right, but you are too afraid to become the target.
It’s hard to speak up when you see that somebody treats people differently because of their gender or race – because this person is your boss and you might get fired.
It’s hard to leave the office on time to spent time with your family when everybody around you is working overtime and you are afraid to lose your job.
It’s hard to admit that you have made a mistake, because that means that you have to live with the consequences of your behavior.
But that’s exactly when our values become important. Or as Luvvie Ajayi in her inspiring Ted talk “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable” says: “It is our job, our duty, our obligation to speak truth to power. Not just when it’s getting difficult. But especially when it’s difficult.”
And we not only do it for other people. We do it for ourselves as well. Because when our behavior doesn’t match our values, it makes us unhappy – and it changes the way we look at ourselves.
In addition, while most values and the biggest parts of your identity seem to be quite stable, they can change with your experiences in life.
In your first years of working, career and success might be your first priority. But when you experienced a burnout the value of health and having time for yourself will probably become more important. When you are young you might want to live in different countries and cities, because the values of freedom and independence are important to you. But after you do that for awhile, you might want to settle down – and so the values of stability get more powerful.
Keeping in touch with our values is a lifelong journey – as well as keeping in touch with our identity.
by Antonia Friemelt