Owning Your Identity To Unlock Your Potential
Some lessons are never completely mastered. The practice of mastery, the process of learning the same lesson in different facets of life, is the point, it would seem. For me, one lesson which has continued to challenge me is recognizing that faith drives results, not the other way around. Just yesterday I was driving with my girlfriend, Meagan, and expressing some frustration to her about my self-perceived lack of progress as a public speaker. I told her that even though I had made steps in the right direction, I still felt as though I lacked a “defining moment” or a “defining accomplishment” that was “truly excellent” which would establish my validity as an elite or accomplished speaker. I was struggling with identification as a motivational speaker. As the conversation carried on, and I got further and further into the morass of how small my impact was compared to where I desired it to be, how few my followers were, and how low my readership was, a realization struck me: I was doing it again. I was attempting to use a tangible result, a consequence of an action, to justify my own faith and self-confidence in the ability to stand tall and deliver impactful messages. I was making the crippling error of letting past results drive current identity. I was losing vision and an understanding of how we become who we desire and how life lives through us.
It was certainly not the first time I had been faced with the challenge of owning an identity (in this case that of an impactful public speaker). I vividly remember a time about two years ago when I was trying to come up with a few titles for those in leadership positions at Amherst Madison in order to provide clarity as to roles and responsibilities. Titles are this funny duality in that they are simultaneously hollow and in no way do they describe the fullness of a human being. However, at the same time, they all carry enormous power in that they immediately instill a perception and belief on the part of the viewer due to the viewer’s assumptions about the role the title describes. We all carry assumptions and notions of titles around with us based on past experiences. Consider the titles Mother, Father, Son, Daughter, Boss, Follower, Employee, and Leader. What comes to mind for you? What preconceived notions and images flash through your head when you consider these titles? Can you see how these words carry the power to bring meaning into your mind?
Anyhow, back to my identity crisis (one of many), here I was transitioning away from my then-current title of “Designated Broker” to…. well, I was not sure. Choosing other people’s titles was easy, but my own? Challenging. I wanted it to be simple and descriptive, but I also had a sense for the future of where I was headed and where I wanted to go. Something was nagging at me that this was an opportunity to grow and to step into a new role which was there waiting for me. I wanted to step forward – not sideways or backward. So, what will it be? Founder? No, that describes what I was not wanting to be. It could be part of the title, but it wasn’t enough to stand alone. Several other options spilled out and were crossed off before three letters tumbled onto the page in front of my eyes: CEO. Immediate laughter from my own internal peanut gallery. CEO? Seriously? What a joke. A CEO is someone who resides in a crystal tower somewhere downtown and wields heavy influence over a Fortune 500 company. What did I do? I owned a real estate brokerage in Boise. Give me a break. I did not have the pedigree or the accomplishments to claim such a title. Not only did I think it was outlandish, I knew other people would snicker at the title for the garish appointment that it was. I dismissed the thought outright. About a week later, I came back to the drawing board to choose my new title. Once again, the ridiculous CEO kept coming to the forefront, much to my combined chagrin and self-effacing hilarity. Just for kicks, I decided to punch it in to the oracle known as Google to see what the dictionary had to say about the word: CEO, noun, “a chief executive officer, the highest-ranking person in a company or other institution, ultimately responsible for making managerial decisions.” Houston, we have a problem. Highest-ranking? Ultimately responsible? Well, that was me! Still, I in no way saw myself as a “CEO.”
Disturbed and highly uncomfortable, I did what any self-respecting adult would do when faced with a dilemma: I avoided the issue altogether and dropped it for about three months while I focused on my business and duties to the same. Still, the task was at hand. I was no longer the broker. I needed a new title before people started to question my role and to be confused as to company structure – or the most likely outcome, assigning me a title themselves, which may or may not be in alignment with brokerage growth and direction. Leadership starts with self-leadership; and right now, I was failing in my duties. I was failing to lead.
It occurred to me why this was such a difficult decision and why the title of CEO was so frightening to me. This was not about titles, it was about identity. This was about who and what I would be identified with as I stepped into the role that was waiting for me. At that moment of realization, I knew what I had to do. I knew why it was so uncomfortable and difficult. I knew from my past experiences as an athlete, student, and entrepreneur, that if I waited for some type of proof before I owned my identity, I would be waiting for an eternity. I fully embraced the identity of a CEO, with the full understanding that I was not yet where I needed to be to stake such a claim but was moving forward with determination to live up to the title and make it my reality. Ironically, just recently, I was recognized by some outstanding peers as an Idaho CEO of some influence. There is still a part of me that finds it hard to believe and that knows I have a long, long way to go, but it is nice to know I am not COMPLETELY insane.
The point of this article is to expose how we can intentionally own a role, own a title, own an identity, in order to accelerate our development and become who we need to be in order to progress towards fullness of potential. I am not here to glorify titles themselves. Indeed, titles are transient and we all carry several as the years wear on. Some fall off, others jump on, but none of it changes who we are at our core. None of them change our inner purpose. The identity under the title, the identity that ultimately is controlled by story and that controls self-perception and action; that identity is what is so important to own with intention.
I took the time to go into depth in my decision-making process and my struggles to own this new identity, because there are some critical lessons imbedded in that process which I believe all readers can utilize to their advantage. While I was fully confident in my ability to take ultimate responsibility of my organization, and while I was already making strong leadership decisions prior to taking on the title and forcing myself to self-identify as a “CEO,” I had not fully accepted the role and all of the responsibility that comes with it; namely, the responsibility to run and lead my business as if it WERE a Fortune 500 company with the corresponding organization, systems, opportunity for growth, career development, stability, community, team, and belonging. Sometimes, we need to force the issue of our growth and own an identity. Rarely, if ever, will we have the tangible evidence or results needed to justify this decision. Those results and that evidence will only come after we own the identity, own ourselves, and commit. I have faced and I still face the same challenges in the field of public speaking, coaching, and all new arenas of life in which I strive to excel.
The most difficult step in achieving anything in life is convincing yourself that you can do it. Just you. Nobody else. The truth is, we don’t need other people to believe in our dreams so long as we have a firm and unshakable faith and so long as we are willing to own our identify. Belief, as often misunderstood as it can be, comes before action, which is the precursor to results. This is so often twisted and flipped by humanity, and people sit around and wait for a lifetime for the results to appear which will unlock their belief. It never happens. How do you believe in something that you cannot see or measure? This is the definition of faith. There are habits you can instill in your life to unlock the power of belief, but they are outside the scope of this article. They include mediation, journaling, quiet, visualization, reading, travel, conferences… know that you must first walk forward with faith and ownership before you will find the results you seek. My all-time favorite quote on this topic comes from someone I deeply admire, Steve Jobs. Talk about vision. His vision for Apple was as incredible as it was unbelievable. He had no tangible results to justify what he believed to be true. Nobody believed it to be possible. Yet, he owned his identity, had great faith, and overcame incredible odds. He said this in his now-famous commencement address to Stanford University on June 12, 2005: “Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference.
My stories and the stories of Steve Jobs are certainly not unique. We all share them. How many people believed in Einstein; and indeed, what tangible evidence did he have to support his genius when he was a struggling dropout who couldn’t find a job? Nobody outside of himself believed, not even his own father, and he had no tangible results to point to. Yet, he knew deep down that his talent for mathematics would lead to groundbreaking research and he refused to give up on that identity. He was right. He was so right that you don’t even have to use his first name when you reference him… everyone knows who Einstein was and what he accomplished.
Actor and Comedian Jim Carrey is one of the most successful Canadian artists of all time. Yet, in 1987, he was broke and down after following his dreams in Los Angeles. Nobody believed. He did. He stayed faithful to his dreams, and he refused to back down from the identity he had claimed by chasing his aspirations to become an accomplished actor. In this article by Rise Up Eight, Carrey explains how he used visualization to manifest the identity he wanted: “I would visualize things coming to me that I wanted. And I had nothing at that time, but it just made me feel better, at that time all it really was, was kind of just, making me feel better. I would drive home and think – well I do have these things, and they’re out there, I just don’t have a hold of them yet, but they’re out there.” Carrey went so far as to write himself a check for $10 Million around Thanksgiving in 1992 and date it for 1995, three years in advance, for “acting services rendered.” He kept the check with him in his wallet as proof and as a reminder to his identity, with tangible results nowhere in sight. Manifestation became reality in astonishing precision when, on Thanksgiving 1995, almost exactly three years after he wrote the check, Jim Carrey was paid $10 Million as a result of the success of his movie Dumb and Dumber. If this story doesn’t explain the power of manifestation and the absolute necessity of owning your identity, I don’t know what does.
We all feel like we are a “fraud” when we step up to own a new identity. That is a great deal of the battle for success. That is one of the chief reasons why it is difficult and why so few persevere. So often, it is in our nature to assume that faith follows results, that “seeing is believing,” when this has been proven time and again to be false. Just as we saw with Jim Carrey, the fact that the results have not yet revealed themselves to you doesn’t mean you are a “fraud.” It only means the time has not yet come. This has nothing to do with your identity – the identity which is yours to claim at any time. I have always felt like the term “fake it until you make it,” as it applies to success in a new field, was flawed. Until now, I couldn’t put my finger on just what it was about that quip that didn’t ring true. Now I know. “Fake it until you make it” is an oxymoron. It would be more accurate to say, “fake it and you won’t make it.” Without a genuine and steadfast belief in your identity, you will fail. Without owning your path and owning who you are, you will fall short. Even if they do not realize it, the people who push through the inevitable trials, which come before success and results, do so because they have an honest faith about who they are meant to be. “Faking it” has nothing to do with their success.
I AM. There is incredible power in those three letters. Consider them for yourself for a moment. Think to yourself, I AM ______. What comes to mind? Something positive? Something negative? Something you truly desire and exactly what you intend? You may be surprised what is lurking behind those three simple letters. I have found this exercise to be incredibly powerful: to write out “I AM ______” and fill in the blank repeatedly with words, characteristics or identities which I feel describe my true self, the identity I want to give to the world, and the manner in which I want life to live through me. You may be completely at peace with who you are and how you identify with that inner purpose. Or, like many of us, you may be struggling with moving forward into a new identity. This exercise will help to expose the truth.
The identity you assume determines the reality that will live through you. You are as you perceive yourself to be. A truth. A truth that has been one of the most difficult struggles, yet some of the defining triumphs of my life, as well as the lives of those closest to me. We all struggle with negativity and self-doubt in some form or fashion. We all have made the mistake of adhering to an inner monologue which says, “you are not that person,” “you are not good enough,” “that is for those types of people, not you.” The real question is who DO you want to be? Who ARE you really? I AM…