Reunions and Identity

I would be remiss if I let today finish without a mention of the significance of this date. On this day, in 2019, my mother and I met for the first time. It’s an interesting story that you can read about here (Argus Leader) or here (Augustana Mirror).

My identity changed in ways I never knew it could. I added to my family three years ago. Love multiplies it doesn’t divide. Have a great day.

Who are you? (Part II)

In recent posts, I discussed identity. Identity is how you view yourself as a person. While identity is how YOU view yourself, we often have identities that others created for us. Further, our identities can conflict.

I did a three-step exercise with myself recently and found it helpful. I brainstormed as many of my identities as I could in two minutes. I utilized “I am” statements to list my identities. Example: “I am a father”, “I am a husband”, “I am a son”, “I am a brother”, and “I am a professor” I tried to cover the various aspects of my life including family, personal, professional, and health. After this step, I got a better picture of my own identity.

The next step provides meaning, importance, and priority to each identity listed in step one. If I am a husband, what does that mean? How important is this identity to me (extremely, somewhat, very little)? Finally, I rank each identity in order of importance and priority. This step takes a bit longer than two minutes. It requires you to dig deep. What does it mean to be a husband or a father? Where does this identity rank compared to being a professor or volunteer?

The third step is to determine if the definition and/or identity is something I wanted to keep, modify, or remove. Of the three steps, I struggled with this the most. It required me to examine long-held identities. In the end, I discovered identities that weren’t my own.

In diving into my various identities, I recognized that many of my identities came from other people. Put another way, most of MY identity was not MY identity. My identity evolved from what others believed I should be. My identity as a husband came largely from what I had observed from my father and what society expects of husbands. Similarly, much of my identity had its roots in how and where I was raised. This isn’t necessarily bad but it allowed me to modify some of my identities to meet who I really want to be.

Perhaps the most revealing part of the exercise concerned my professional identity as a professor. I became a professor, in part, to be a better father and husband. I wanted a career that allowed me to have a flexible schedule which allowed me to spend more time with family. The family was more important work. Yet, over time, my identity as a professor became more intertwined with my employer. Further, being a professor became more important and took up more of my life. Where initially the identity was a vehicle to be a better father and husband, it ended up actually harming the other identities. Had I recognized this sooner, I could have changed course sooner and avoided the unintended consequences.

This leads me to my final point for this post. Identity can be changed. In fact, identity should be changed. The world is changing all the time. James Clear provides a three-step process to jump-start an identity change and creation of identity-based habits. First, name the goal you and/or identity you want to achieve. Second, in one sentence describe the type of person who would achieve your goal. Third, list five very small steps you can take to become this person. Do each step for a week before moving to the next step. After five weeks, you will be closer to the new identity than before.

Do something today that makes you better tomorrow. Grow each day.

Who are you?

Recently, I have taken a deeper dive to learn more about the concept of identity. I ponder my own identity and how it drives my actions.  To be honest, prior to last year, I didn’t think much about identity.

Simply, identity is how you view yourself as a person. Previously, I discussed the importance of focus, facts, and questions to become healthier. Each of these is intertwined with the concept of your identity. Do you view yourself as healthy? Fit? Smart? Good?

What you focus on, you become. Want to change who you are, change your focus. Don’t believe me?  Do you have a minute? For the next fifteen seconds look at everything around you that is brown. Be sure you look closely at EVERYTHING that is brown.  After you have done that, close your eyes and in the next 30 seconds identify everything around you that is green. How did you do? If you are like most, you missed much of the green. This happened because your focus was on the brown. After you opened your eyes, you probably saw a lot of green. You are who you say and believe you are – so focus on who want to be.

In a previous post, I mentioned the power of identity-based habits.  Prior to creating identity-based habits, you must have a clear identity to build the habits around. I will share personal stories about my identity. Additionally, I will share how failure to understand my identity, created challenges. 


A couple of things to consider before next time and an exercise. First, you choose your own identity. Second, your identity directs many of the outcomes in your life. Third, and this is the best part, you can change your identity and therefore many of the outcomes in your life.

Want to start now? First, decide what you want to be. When I looked at that picture in November 2020, I decided I didn’t want to be that person anymore. I wanted to be healthier. I want to be a person who lost weight. I wanted to be better. The second step is to take action on that decision. After you decide, take one action that moves you toward being the person you wish to become.

What questions are you asking?

One of my good friends is a philosopher. He doesn’t wear tweed, smoke a pipe, or work at Harvard. He is curious and inquisitive about many topics. Most conversations with him involve many questions. Often, he answers questions with a question. While this can be annoying, it forces one to think deeper. The questioning requires you to ask better questions.

If the answers are within, asking good questions yields good answers. Likewise, asking poor questions yields poor answers. For instance, if I ask “Why can’t I lose weight?” Neither the answer nor the question empower one to lose weight. But what if you ask “Why do I want lose weight?” My answer is to be healthy and happy. What if I ask another question? “Why do I want to be healthy and happy?” What if I kept asking questions based on my answers. When I did this, I ended with a powerful why and it lead me to how.

The better the question the better the answer. The more questions you ask, the better you get and asking questions. But I’m going to warn you, this process is challenging. It is frustrating. It’s easy to give up. However, if you keep at it, you will find the answers.

Further, if you can combine questions with identity-based habits, you are on your way to achieving what you want. Identity-based habits are discussed more fully by James Clear in his book Atomic Habits. You can learn more here.

“Improvements are only temporary until they become part of who you are. The goal is not to read a book, the goal is to become a reader. The goal is not to run a marathon, the goal is to become a runner. The goal is not to learn an instrument, the goal is to become a musician.” –

-Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

Start today by asking better questions. What kind of person do you wish to become and why do you want to become that person? Once you answer those questions, spend the rest of the day living like the person you want to become.

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