Identity Beacon

Illuminating Possibilities

Identity Beacon - Illuminating Possibilities

What’s on your business card?

How do you present yourself to the world? Do you — can you — present your true self or do you present the traditional, expected “data?” — What you do, who you work for?

Here’s another approach for fashioning a personal business card that asserts your more powerful, more meaningful parts. Stay with me …

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to make a presentation to the Association of Career Professionals(ACP) here in Connecticut — a diverse group of career coaches and consultants, outplacement executives, and individuals in various states of transition. The session was entitled: My Brand, My Career: Building the Relationship of a Lifetime

While shaping one’s personal brand was the ostensible focus of the meeting, my intention was to take the crowd to a deeper place — a place that, once reached, would become the foundation of their personal brand, but also provide them a fresh perspective on how to build a life and legacy they’d be proud of. In short, their brand would become their authentic, distinctive, and sustainable center of gravity.

To get to this “deeper place,” we tackled a variety of questions ranging from who am I? and what makes me special? to where am I going?, who can I trust?, and what is my message? All of these questions, and others, were aimed at cracking the code on one’s essential identity as the starting point for shaping a truly meaningful brand.

Once you crack your code, you’re ready to get real. Put your personal brand statement on a business card — if you don’t have one, or only have a company card, have some made — you’re inviting people to get to know you faster and better. You’re inviting notable discussions, which could lead to a new job, or even a new career. (And, it’s a great conversation starter at cocktail parties!) You’re promoting what you’re really “good at” and what makes you unique. That’s what your brand needs to do.

What are you waiting for?

The problem with “identity” (Fixing it is up to you)

Do you know what the word of the year was in 2015? It was ”identity” according to Dictionary.com.

Why has identity become a hot topic today? Why was “identity” the word of the year in 2015? Chalk it up to the new individualism — a world where we’ve become keenly aware of, and more vocal about what defines us, thanks to the opportunity social media has unleashed to publicly assert yourself. (Ironically, despite its many blessings, social media has contributed to the problem by enabling people to create “identities” which may have nothing to do with who they really are.)

Why does personal identity matter? Because it fuels not simply a sense of who you believe you are, but as a result, the choices you make such as where to work, whom to call a friend (or enemy), and indeed which political candidate gets your vote.

Taken together, our identity-centric lives are coalescing into potent, new communities demarcated by beliefs, both spoken and unspoken, that increasingly influence how well society functions — or doesn’t — economically, socially and politically.

So, what’s the problem?

For all the attention this “identity trend” is receiving, it reinforces an impression that actually diminishes rather than expands upon what it means to be fully human. Indeed, the notion of “identity politics” undermines the deeper meaning of human identity.

The actual ‘problem with identity’ may be a matter of meaning. As the word of the year in 2015,identity’ suggests the timeless fact that we all long to belong. We yearn to tie ourselves to a group, a tribe, a community we can call our own. But that isn’t the deepest meaning of the word.

What I’ve learned over three decades is that your essential identity – your distinctive, value-creating characteristics – springs naturally from the core of your being – a place that is blind to classifications, transcending gender, ethnicity, religion, and every other label we adopt as a way to locate ourselves in the world. You are simply you: unique and powerful in your own right.

With this in mind, identity’s 2015 “word win” may reflect the sobering fact that it was the most used, least understood term out there.

When your definition of identity is based upon a descriptive label rather than the special contribution you’re capable of making as an individual, you short-change yourself, those you care most about, and society as a whole. Why? Because, to paraphrase a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes, you leave your music inside.

How you can help fix the identity problem

It’s pretty simple. To borrow another quote from Holmes, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

Don’t let the pull of labels or social media distract you from tapping into and applying your innate identity to your life. Everyone will benefit including your co-workers, your friends, your children, your spouse or partner and, most of all, you.

At bottom, having a clear sense of identity is the key to shaping a life marked by authenticity and integrity –- knowing what to do, what not to do, and why.

Here’s one more quote to take away. It’s from British artist, illustrator and teacher, Evelyn Mary Dunbar: “We are each gifted in a unique and important way. It is our privilege and our adventure to discover our own special light.”

I hope you agree.

 

 

 

But, what about the bird?

It’s almost spring and here come the birds, back from their southern migrations.

Ever wonder how birds get around, how they are able to fly? They use their strong breast muscles to flap their wings to give them the thrust they need to move through the air. Further, birds use a swimming-forward motion to get the lift needed to fly. 

Naturally, both wings need to move in unison to achieve lift-off and sustain flight. It doesn’t take much to imagine the flight path of a bird whose wings are working against each other, pulling (or pushing) in different directions, or flapping at different speeds. The chance of actually breaking a wing (or two) becomes a distinct possibility. 

Welcome to America.

Today, we have a Right Wing that is stretching as far to the right as possible. This Wing is advocating attitudes and preaching policies that are fueled by fear, my-way-or-the-highway injunctions and exclusionary imperatives.

We also have a Left Wing that is stretching as far to the left as possible. This wing is advocating attitudes and preaching policies that are delusional in their idealism, economically impossible and polyannaish to a fault. 

In the midst of this turmoil, I keep asking myself: But, what about the bird? What about America, the nation? The institution? Is it really all about the wings?

America “the bird” is in the throes of a full-blown identity crisis. Its’ wings are broken and its’ flight path is indeterminable and dangerously out of control. The notion that America is, in fact, in the midst of an identity crisis has been widely acknowledged for years. (Just Google America identity crisis and see what comes up.)

Politics, in my view, is a desperate game. I find it ironic that politics is killing the very body that it purports to represent. If you know of a candidate, a party, that is more interested in protecting the bird than its wings, let me know. He or she will get my vote. And my prayers.

What’s funny about change (and what isn’t)

Louis C.K is considered by some to be America’s top comic. So, when he started riffing on our obsession with the minutiae of social media technology, I decided to listen in. It was a rainy afternoon in Denver and I was sitting in my hotel room, looking for a little diversion.

Louis C.K. described how we get our noses out of joint when a text we’re sending doesn’t go through immediately. Or, how in the “old days,” when telephones came with rotary dials, we became impatient if a particular phone number had too many zeros or nines, meaning we’d have to wait as the rotor circled all the way back, before we could dial the next digit. His point wasn’t just that we’re spoiled instant gratification junkies; it’s that we’ve become change junkies: Enough is never enough. Fast needs to be faster. What’s new is not as cool as what’s next.

As I took all of this in, I looked out of my window. What met my gaze were the Rocky Mountains. They presented a stark contrast to what now seemed to be trivial, insignificant bitching about nothing — to our obsession with change.

For all our craving for change, I was struck by the contrary idea that we are our own Rockies — inviolable mountains with cores that defy change.

When it comes to change, here’s my conclusion: In the end, we love most what doesn’t change: nature, the Rockies, the essential character of the people we care about, which hopefully includes ourselves. Yet, change is inevitable. So, what’s the solution?

My advice to you is to embrace the identity paradox: the ability to change from a changeless foundation.

Every individual and organization has at their center an immutable core — an identity — that makes them who they are. If you embrace this core, you can “change” how you express yourself without upsetting the apple cart. You can remain authentic while staying relevant. This is the power of the identity paradox. 

One more thing: The next time a text takes a few extra seconds to go through, don’t sweat it. Just give thanks for the miracle you hold in your hands.

The Un-Common Core – What educators are forgetting and our kids aren’t getting

The public school system in America is undergoing an overhaul. That overhaul is called Common Core — the new curriculum structure based on “consistent academic guidelines created to help all students succeed.” Those words aren’t mine; they greet you when you go to the Common Core official website.

On the surface, it sounds reasonable to standardize, right? Consistent metrics for all. Level playing field. Better outcomes for our children, our communities and our nation.

But, I am concerned that Common Core will turn kids into robo-students, whose only aim is to meet imposed measures. Lost in the academic shuffle will be the opportunity to tap into that special ‘genius’ that resides within all individuals — and which cannot be discerned or measured through any set of standards.

Human beings — that includes kids — aren’t all the same. They aren’t “common.” They are unique beings with distinctive characteristics that define who they are and what their potential is. Children have identities, which need to be cultivated just like their ability to solve trigonometry problems, interpret literature and conduct successful science experiments.

At the center of every child is an uncommon core. If educators would ever wake up to this fact and offer personal discovery experiences, as well as academics — experiences that fostered self-awareness and, in turn, smarter decision-making — we’d be able to “measure” outcomes in terms of healthier, more well-adjusted adults, not just better test scores.

Rouhani’s identity imperative

“We must also pay attention to the issue of identity as a key driver of tension in, and beyond, the Middle East. At their core, the vicious battles in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are over the nature of those countries’ identities and their consequent roles in our region and the world.

 “The centrality of identity extends to the case of our peaceful nuclear energy program.” To us, mastering the atomic fuel cycle and generating nuclear power is as much about diversifying our energy resources as it is about who Iranians are as a nation, our demand for dignity and respect and our consequent place in the world. Without comprehending the role of identity, many issues we all face will remain unresolved.”

I read these remarks by President Rouhani of Iran and was blown away. Finally, a world figure who seemingly “gets” the power and influence of identity; who understands the need to address the question of identity head-on, and not just refer to it as some existential notion lacking in practical implications.

Will we tackle the identity question, directly? I don’t know. I’m not sure we know how to go about it. But there are ways to do it. I know that. If you know my work, so do you.

 

Descartes’ trap – Don’t fall into it!

The U.S. is doing it. Microsoft is doing it. Lots of people – not just nations and companies – are doing it: Falling into Descartes’ trap, and it’s taking a hell of a toll on everyone. If you don’t remember, Rene Descartes famously said, I think, therefore, I am. Five little words that set into motion one of the most prevalent and insidious identity traps ever.

Exactly what is Descartes’ trap? It’s when you unwittingly confuse the timeless nature of who you are with the changing nature of what you are.

The Obama Administration wanted to bomb Syria. Was this a rationale military strategy or a misguided, knee-jerk reaction to the idea that our country is the world’s policeman and must act accordingly? In short, if we’re not the world’s policeman, are we still America? Unwittingly, we confuse who we are with what we are – or believe we are – producing undo risk for all involved.

Microsoft is held prisoner by the unspoken belief that it’s value-creating potential is the result of is size and influence. In short: We are big, we are powerful; therefore, we are. Au contraire! Microsoft’s size and influence (what it is) are the result of how it creates value (who it is).

Individuals are also susceptible to Descartes’ trap. People confuse what they do with who they are, all the time. I am a star athlete; that’s who I am. I’m a young investment banker; that’s who I am. I’m a doctor; that’s who I am. Maybe not.

At some point, the star athlete retires, then “who” is she? Or the banker gets fired — for the second time in three years — and is at a loss for how to understand who he is in the face of recurring rejection. The label is gone, but the person remains. Now what?

Before you make life-shaping decisions about your job, career, love-life, whatever, make sure you distinguish between the temporal nature of what you are and the enduring nature of who you are. And keep in mind that who will always trump what.

Your happiness lies in the balance.

 

 

The crisis crisis

Reading about Rutgers University’s ongoing athletic department scandal, leads me to conclude that we’re into a protracted crisis season, a time when crises are showing up all over the place. The list is long. Here (along with Rutgers) are a few of my recent favorites.

The Catholic Church and its propensity for hiding sex crimes under its robes

BP and its failure to deal with the Deep Horizon explosion before the fact (and after it, for a time)

Penn State and its protection of its football program over the protection of young children

The BBC for the sexual misconduct of 81 staff — half of which still work for the broadcaster (so much for the “integrity of the source”)

The US for the Great Recession, which put us all at grave risk, leading to the destruction of wealth as well as human dignity, due to the loss of millions of jobs

You can tell a crisis from a run-of-the-mill problem, or even scandal, because, figuratively speaking, a crisis cuts into the flesh and bone of a company or person. Invariably, it makes us look into the abyss – into ourselves – to see whether we still are who we thought we were.

From where I sit, the greatest danger lurking inside a crisis is not recognizing it for what it is, which leads to a kind of crisis inside the crisis, or simply, the crisis crisis.

The crisis crisis happens when you claw your way through it by hook or by crook. You survive it, but you don’t change. And then, what? You’re doomed to repeat it. A crisis ignored, skirted, or denied is cancerous. It may recede for a time but it will be back, stronger, and more virulent than ever. That is the inevitable result of a crisis crisis.

Don’t let this happen to you. What I mean by “this” isn’t necessarily having a crisis. Sometimes, it’s inevitable, especially for people. What I am referring to is not allowing a crisis crisis to occur, whether it is in relation to your company or yourself. If a crisis hits, see it for the seminal event it is. Make the most of it, even as you work to overcome it. See it as an opportunity to learn, to change, to grow. 

 

 

The Power of Identity in Brand Building

Apple, Whole Foods, Alcoa, GE, Ford…all different companies in completely different businesses. What they all share, despite their disparities, is an abiding understanding that their fortunes are intimately tied to the contributions they are capable of making in the world. And that that contribution springs naturally from the identities that govern how each entity creates fundamental value.

A healthy corporate identity comes from building a vital, visible relationship between the institution and the society of which it is necessarily a part. Making this connection clear, promoting it and living it, is how successful companies attract and retain great talent, create sustainable partnerships with valuable customers, and — in the end — are able to keep shareholders happy.

How can you find the connection to identity in your brand building?

Download this free resource to inform your practices.

Who am I? – Mapping your identity

Most people consider the question, who am I, to be some deep, cosmic idea that defies a clear answer. Further, most people think it’s a question one can address only after you’ve got more than a few decades of living under your belt.

Wrong on both counts. Getting to know “you” in a real, articulate and meaningful way, is entirely doable and can start at almost any age. I’ve had lucid identity conversations with 10 and 11 year-olds. Through a process called Identity Mapping, I’ve worked with students, 13-19+, as well as people their parents’ age. Here’s a secret: they all get it.

I recently came across an article by a young girl, Julia R., in Teen Ink magazine that caught my attention. Julia understands a basic tenet of identity development. She writes: I dislike saying “‘I am trying to find myself’ because my identity is not lost, it just needs more uncovering.” Right on, Julia! You’re not inventing you, you’re discovering you. The name of the article is, Who Am I? Here’s the link.  http://bit.ly/Abg3yQ

I’ve found that Identity Mapping is a powerful way to uncover one’s unique capacities and then apply those powerful strengths to school, your career, your family, your community and other important relationships.

Imagine being in complete alignment with who you really are. Identity Mapping is designed to tap the creativity, vision and potential that resides in all of us, no matter our age.

For more on how to uncover the potential your identity holds – see this link.

Breaking Your Identity Code

The idea of ‘retirement’ continues to lose currency with so many men and women who have better things to do than spend their days on the golf course or traveling (not there’s anything wrong with these activities).

What people do seem to want is a degree of freedom that just wasn’t possible while working full-time, or in jobs that were less than gratifying.

‘Free to be me’ — finally! — is often the unspoken mantra of people contemplating or entering retirement. The idea that, now, you can be whatever you’ve always wanted to be, or do whatever you’ve always wanted to do, occupies your thoughts and dreams.

But where does true freedom come from? Is it breaking free of external constraints, or is it breaking free from constraints we’ve unconsciously put on ourselves?

If you’re ready to ‘break free,’ start by breaking your own identity code. Please download this free resource.