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Identity Crisis: To Be or To Do?


“To be or not to be? That is the question.”

– Hamlet Act 3 Scene 1

How do you identify yourself? By who you are or by what you do? My sense is that on your tombstone one day it will not read: “Here Lies A Waste Management Specialist” or fill in the job title. Unfortunately, we begin most relationships by asking, “What do you do?” Why is that?

“Hi my name is JT. What’s your name? It’s nice to meet you. So, what do you do?”

This simple and very common conversation starter is saying a lot.  We are making inferences about their identity based on what they do not by who they are. A true, authentic relationship cares very little about what a person does.

What is valuable is who the person is.

Think of it like this:

What they do may reveal:

(Caution - most of us are guilty of making these big assumptions)

-       How much influence they have

-       How much power they have

-       How important they are

-       How much money they make

-       How how happy they are

-       What kind of house and neighborhood they can afford

-       What school their kids go to and how smart they will be

-       What kind of parents they are (because of money and house size)

-       What kind of college and eventual job the kids will have

-       Start at the beginning and repeat cycle

We also begin thinking about how they can provide a service for me. What they do for work may benefit me in some way.

Of course we would never consciously think of all this. This is where we all need to be honest and begin asking, “Why don’t we ask who they are rather than what they do?”

I have a “To be” list. This list is a small list of who I am. 

What we do flows out of who we are.

I challenge you to make a “To be” list. Begin to understand who you are before you begin identifying yourself by what you do. This list is in order of priority.

My list:

1. Christian

2. Husband

3. Dad

4. Brother

5. Friend

6. Son

7. Mentor

8. Neighbor

9. Co-worker

10. Son-in-Law

Make your own “to be” list. Now make a list of what you do.  Compare both lists and see if what you do is a reflection of who you are. Chances are that the decisions you make are a reflection of how you see your identity at that moment.

Bad decisions happen when you mix up the order of your “to be” list and begin putting “do” items on your “be” list. 

Depression and lack of confidence can result from identifying ourselves by what we do. This will never be good enough. In contrast, if you want to be a great friend, encourage and remind someone how he or she is doing within his or her true identity.

“You are a wonderful and affectionate mother.”

“You are a good son.”

“You are a mature Christian.”

“You are a kind-hearted mentor.”

“You are a loyal friend.”

“You are a caring co-worker.”

And remember…

“You are not your job, you're not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You are not your khakis.”

– Chuck Palahniuk Fight Club