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We’re living in a time where businesses are closing and people in long-term careers are suddenly out of work, due to no fault of their own. While the global pandemic has had a great impact on our health and on our economy, it has also had an impact on our very sense of identity.
Many people gain their sense of identity from what they do, and when they suddenly can no longer do what they do and can no longer perform as they’ve grown to expect, it can be a tragic and perhaps even traumatic experience. Perhaps you know someone who has experienced this kind of a loss and can attest to how people can really lose their sense of identity and purpose when this happens.
What’s the solution?
Being vs. Doing
Many mindful leaders have suggested that we are human beings not human doings, reminding us that we are more than what we do, which perhaps also suggests that we actually have two purposes: a primary inner purpose concerning who we are, and a secondary outer purpose concerning what we do with who we are.
The problem is that we often spend so much time focusing on what we do that we all but overlook the primary concern. This is to be expected, of course, considering what we’ve done up until now. As teenagers we’re asked by parents and teachers, “What are you going to do with the rest of your life?” And then as adults, what’s one of the first things we ask someone we’ve just met? “What do you do?”
We live in a transactional world that focuses so much attention on what we and others do, that it’s no wonder we forget to consider who we actually are. Yet our inner purpose truly should be our primary concern, for when it is considered honestly it can inform our outer purpose as an expression of who we are.
There are ten questions to ask yourself that will uncover an authentic character that holds, regardless of where you are or what you’re doing. Five of these questions concern your inner purpose and the other five concern your outer purpose:
- The Value Question: What’s important to you?
- The Virtue Question: Who are you when no one else is around?
- The Admiration Question: What do you admire about yourself?
- The Joy Question: What makes your heart sing?
- The Legacy Question: What impact does your presence have on your community?
These questions can serve as an effective mirror to reflect on, helping to align your inner purpose with your outer purpose, ensuring that what you do dances in harmony with who you are.
- The Desire Question: What do you want to do? And why is this important to you?
- The Ability Question: What can you do? What are your skills, talents, and opportunities?
- The Responsibility Question: What must you do? What are you in control and in charge of?
- The Commitment Question: What will you do? What are you motivated to follow through with?
- The Requirement Question: What do you need? What resources or support will help you to be successful?
Take time now to write down your responses to these questions. It’s likely that you won’t have answers to all of them just yet, or perhaps they may just be incomplete, and that’s certainly okay; these questions are meant to be revisited over time. When done consistently, this practice can be much like an artist chipping away at a sculpture, removing that which doesn’t serve, revealing the work of art beneath the surface.
Another useful application of these questions is to write one word for each question on ten index cards. In other words, one card will say Value, another will say Virtue, another will say Admiration, and so forth, so you have a stack of ten cards collectively representing these authenticity questions. Then, whenever you’re presented with a challenge, experience a moment of doubt, or need to make an important decision, pull a card at random and reflect on how your response to the question can provide insight into your challenge.
When we gain our sense of identity only from what we do, we run the risk of losing ourselves when we are no longer able to perform as we’ve grown to expect. By engaging in the questions and practices suggested here, we empower and encourage ourselves with an authentic character that can hold regardless of what we’re doing and regardless of the state of the world.
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Jonas Cain is a Learning Experience Designer and Facilitator of Fascination for Hashtag Positivity, providing valuable social emotional knowledge, skills, resources, and support to emerging leaders and their influencers to help them enter the next chapter of their lives with clarity, confidence, courage, and joy.