Identity Pitfalls

Failing to Explore Your Identity

You can ignore the challenge and drift for a while, but as you get older, it becomes more and more important for you to take on the identity challenge directly.  The related pitfall to avoid is failing to explore and define your identity as go on your journey.  Identities evolve – if we let them.

False Identities

There are a bunch of ways that you can take on an identity that is easily available, but not authentically you.  These are elements such as: “I am who I know or who I am in a relationship with.”  “My status symbols or the money I have define me.” “My identity is based on my rebellion ‘against’ something vs. my belief and commitment ‘to’ something.”  “I’m defined by a mistake I’ve made or something I’ve failed at.”

These factors may have an impact on your identity, but they shouldn’t be allowed to form it.  Most of them aren’t authentically you – or who you are becoming.  Some, like mistakes and failures, can’t be allowed to have too much influence.

All or Nothing

This is the pitfall where you believe that if you aren’t perfect or as smart/attractive/tough/street-smart/talented as another, that you are nothing or you are “just…”  We are a combination of a lot of factors – and that’s what gives us our value or worth – it’s why we can form relationships, hold jobs, etc.

Being the best at something is great, but it doesn’t go very far in terms of creating a strong resilient identity.  That takes a lot of elements and very few of them will be “the best at…

Basing Your Identity on One or Two Elements

This is an easy pitfall to fall into until you are pretty far down the path and have discovered a lot of different aspects of your identity.  You can over-identify with being a star athlete or performer, an excellent student, being very attractive, being rich, etc.

You can also over-identify with being unattractive, a poor student, not a star at any particular activities, being in a racial or ethnic minority, having a sexual orientation that is not the norm, etc.  Authentic healthy identities are made up of a bunch of elements, not just a few.

Giving Up Yourself to Be in a Relationship

This is the big one that everyone struggles with.  It’s really easy to try too hard to fit with someone or a group and give up too much of yourself – your identity. 

We all have to compromise a bit to fit into relationships, but too much compromise twists us out of shape and we lose too much of ourselves.  During the teenage years, with all the changing and developing going on with everyone, this is a major pitfall.     

There Are Four Keys to Success

As with the Relationship and Competency challenges, the key to being successful with the Identity challenge is to follow four principles:

1.    Face the Challenge Directly

The challenge is to leave your childhood identity behind and develop an identity as a young man or woman – and deal with being in-between those two identities for a while with all the uncertainty that comes with that period.  Your power is based on directly engaging with the challenge.

2. Be the Author and Act

Even when unsure about what actions to take.  The central challenge of the heroic journey is saying “yes” to the journey and becoming the author of the experience (as much as possible).

3. Get Support from Others and Support Others

Heroes don’t ever go alone in the myths (and succeed) and we don’t either in taking on our life challenges.  We need support from others and we can also support others on their journey.

4. Persevere Through the Setbacks, Disappointments and Tough Times

Because it’s a rollercoaster, there will naturally be some tough times, setbacks and disappointments – for everyone.  That’s just the way it works.  Staying engaged with the challenge and refusing to give in or give up is essential.  That’s actually where a great deal of growth will happen.

Four Forms of Courage Are Required

Each of the four keys to success relies on courage.  Courage is the central characteristic that provides the foundation for all our other qualities.  Courage is not the lack of fear.  Courage is the willingness to act in spite of fear.

  1. The courage to face the challenge and all the tests directly
  2. The courage to take responsibility for your life and be the author
  3. The courage to rely on others
  4. The courage to “hold the course” and never give up
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Anais Nin