The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines identity as: “the distinguishing character or personality of an individual”.
Chances are you haven’t ever really thought much about this. Most people don’t until they face a crisis, major transition, or are facing some other decision that will impact their life in a significant way.
For some people their sense of identity is wrapped up in their career, for some it’s wrapped up in being a parent…or a soldier, or an artist…etc. But identity really goes much deeper than that.
Identity has to do with who you are at the core level as a uniquely designed individual. You are a one-of-a-kind masterpiece with hardwiring and experiences that no one else has.
Occupations, roles, seasons, and situations change, but your identity remains constant.
I always find that abstract concepts are better explained by specific examples. Since I’m an animation nerd, I thought I’d use an example from an animated movie.
Learn a lesson from Mike Wazowski from Pixar’s Monsters University. (Forget what you know about him from Monsters Inc. for a moment.) His whole identity was wrapped up in becoming a scarer. It’s all he thought about since he was a kid. His story arc (and Sulley’s as well) in the film is all about finding his identity.
You have a dream of becoming a certain type of creative, but you’re not 100% sure if that is your identity or not. Interest and desire do not equal identity. Identity is only found in the journey and is usually different that what it appears to be on the surface.
At a critical moment in the film, after several suprise wins in a fraternity competition, Sully realizes they have won through a combination of luck and hard work.
He realizes that their team does not have what it takes to win the final challenge. He turns to Mike and says, “You can train monsters like this all you want, but you can’t change who they are!”
Even the initials of the fraternity they belonged to pointed to how they were percieved by others and how they felt deep down. Oozma Kappa (OK). Their motto was “We’re OK!” That was their identity. We’re just OK. Nothing special. No real talent to share here.
Later, after coming to grips with the fact that he was not a natural scarer, Mike says to Sulley, “I thought if I wanted it enough I could show everyone that Mike Wazowski is someone special.”
Mike’s sense of self worth was wrapped up in his identity as a scarer. But his real identity was as a forward thinking coach. He brought out the best in others, taught them how to work as a team, and found a way to win. Infact, during one of the very last shots of the film, at the end of a montage of scenes showing how Mike and Sulley climbed the ranks from the mail room to the scare floor, just as they are about to step foot on the scare floor as official scarers, Sully looks at Mike and says, “Are you ready, coach?”
You’ll miss the line if you’re not paying close attention, but it punctuates Mike’s mature acceptence and celebration of his true identity.
All along he was bringing out the best in everyone around him. All along he was studying every angle of scaring. All along he was finding a way to win. But it took a journey of self discovery to understand his true identity.
I would describe Mike Wasowski’s identity as: “a fearless and unconventional, motivational catalyst”. If you were to put your identity into words, how would you describe it? Take some time to reflect and talk to others who know you well. Take a crack at writing out your identity statement. Try to use as few words as possible, write a few versions, sleep on it, then come back to it to come up w/ a final version. Feel free to post your identity statement below. I’d love to hear from you.
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