Tell Me About Yourself: Different Types of Identity

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Let’s, first of all, define purpose. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the purpose is the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists. The purpose is at the centre of who we are and what we value. The purpose is the reason why we persevere; it is the reason for our existence and a driving force that guides our actions, if not why are we living? Have you ever asked yourself, why you eat? I can imagine you are saying, I eat to live. But why then do you want to live? You live because you have a purpose to fulfil. You live because you have a unique potential that needs to be unleashed, and when properly channelled defines your purpose.

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I’m sure we all want to make an impact in life, we all want to contribute to something and that’s what we are created for. Each one of us must live our purpose; we must pursue our quest. We can’t live our purpose when we are in search of someone else’s purpose. While it is reasonable to learn from someone else’s purpose, we must fulfil our purpose.

Fulfilling your purpose, of course, starts with the belief that you have one. Richard Leider, in his book, ‘The Power of Purpose’, gave a detailed equation of how to know your purpose: Gifts + passion + values = purpose. Your gifts are not just your skills and talents, but what you love to do. Your passion is something for which you feel a deep curiosity and interest. Your values include your beliefs and what you consider to be most important. I encourage you to take time and write down your gifts, passion and values. I bet you will be surprised at what you have.

Before we go any further, I think it is important for us to know who we are. What is your identity? By this, I don't mean your origin. Your origin is your family root, and that doesn't determine your identity as a person. According to the Oxford Dictionary, identity is defined as “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is”. Let’s examine this from a philosophical point of view. Dr Sheri Jacobson in her article said: “Our identity is the way we define ourselves. This includes our values, our beliefs, and our personality.” Therefore, your identity is your knowledge of who you are and what you believe in. When you know your identity, you get to appreciate yourself better and this comes with inner satisfaction. It is important to note that, identity discovery does not happen in one day, rather it goes through a gradual but complex process, but when discovered, it gives you a clearer map of your life’s destination. Time and patience are needed when one embarks on this discovery journey.

Now that I have laid the background for your identity, I want you to pause for a moment and ask yourself the question, “WHO AM I?” your answer should instantly resonate with you if you search deep down in your spirit. Every one of us is created for a purpose and that purpose is unique. We all have something in us that makes us unique in our way. Until you understand your identity there is a great propensity that your life’s journey would remain unfulfilled, with you fixated on the thought of who you think ‘you should be’. To reflect on this try taking a step to identify and rectify things holding you back from becoming your authentic self.

Different types of identity include religious identity, gender identity, cultural identity, social identity, political identity, ethnic identity, personal identity, and some others. For this book, I will like to highlight three types of identity.

Cultural identity. Cultural identity is when a person is identified to belong to a distinct culture, nationality, ethnicity, or locality. Cultures are diverse; some are small while others are widespread, some are old and some are relatively new. The culture we are immersed in can be peculiar to an individual and it is an important element on the journey to discover oneself, and learn about others and the community. Language is a huge part of cultural identity. There are different cultures and languages when one changes the environment, these are bound to change to enable us to adapt to the new environment, and as we grow with each culture, it shapes our perspective about life.

Religious identity. According to Jackson and Hogg, “religious identity describes how a person or group understands, experiences, shapes, and is shaped by the psychological, social, political, and devotional facets of religious belonging or affiliation.” (Jackson and Hogg, Religious Identity, Encyclopaedia of identity. SAGE knowledge 2010).In principle, religious identity pertains to an individual or group’s identification of a religious belief. It conceptualises and embodies being part of a community and a culture, so it can be a dominant part of one’s identity. Most people are born into one religious setting or another. The religious belief you are born into to an extent helps to shape your morals and values when growing up.

Personal identity. Personal identity refers to an individual's concept of oneself. This includes a person's interests and values. Unlike cultural identity, personal identity adopts the term “I” and this guides the individual’s decisions in life. Personal identity is demonstrated through the choices we make in life such as our outward appearance, and how we behave or interact with people. Although this develops over time and can change with time as well. For example, John liked football from an early age and kept enjoying everything about football even in his 20s. When John was in his 50s his interest in football began to see a drastic drop and was no longer interested in football and rather picked another area of interest. John now enjoys spending more time gardening rather than watching football. The choices we make in life have a huge impact on our future ambitions and pursuit. If you make negative choices now, it goes a long way to stimulate the production of your future.

Several elements make up a person's identity. These elements recognize what makes us who we are. One's identity, however, is made up of layers from different categories. A person's identity cannot be classified with only one category, and we may not identify with all the categories listed below. It is important to note that no one can define your identity for you. This is primarily because your identity is your personal choice and some are inborn, so we have little or no control over it. So, let’s delve into the various categories that make up our identity.

Personal and physical appearances. Our appearance is our outward look. The way other people see and evaluate us externally and these include the way we dress and our grooming. Physical appearance, on the other hand, consists of our body language, facial expressions, and gestures. Both personal and physical attributes form a big part of our identity. People make conscious and subconscious assumptions about us based on our appearance. The way we dress, our grooming, facial expression, and body language, speak to our inward feelings and temperaments. It communicates our idea to the world. We advertise who we are, what we stand for, and who we want to be known as through our appearances; and spontaneously people judge us quickly based on our appearance, and this without any doubt forms our identity as a person.

Character traits. A character trait is a distinctive quality that pertains to a person. These traits can either be good or bad; we all have both good and bad traits. Some examples of good character traits include: funny, patient, forgiving, organised, etc. and some examples of negative character traits include: stubborn, envious, untidy, cunning, etc. Character traits can be denoted through a person's actions, how you act around others, or even through our responses or non-responses to situations. Character traits, therefore, exhibit our unique strengths and weakness and this portrays our identity. You notice this in some people when they walk into a room, they instantly light up the room through their character traits, whereas it may be difficult for other character groups to navigate personalities.

Hobbies. Hobbies are a fundamental expression of our personality. It enriches our life; helps us to acquire new knowledge or broadens our existing knowledge, thereby giving us different perspectives on things. Our hobbies are integrated into who we are because it is what we love doing and this is what people can identify us with. So, whether you enjoy baking, surfing, dancing, or reading, it paints a picture of you to others and that's the way they will perceive you.

Thoughts. Our thoughts consist of the information we consume. Our brain filters this information and transmits it to our minds. Once accepted by our mind, it becomes our belief and we act based on that. The common saying, ‘you are a product of your thought’, is so true because what we think, reflects in our actions as they consciously or subconsciously drive us. For example, if you think you are a failure, that is the way you will see yourself and it reflects in your behaviour.


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