Identity: Who You Really Are or What You are Hiding Behind?

Father. Husband. Leader. Brother. Entrepreneur. Business Owner. Triathlete. CEO. Son.

Identity is a funny thing. When I’m introducing myself at a conference, I’m Adam Hergenrother – CEO & Entrepreneur. When I’m meeting people at a family gathering with my in-laws, I’m Adam – Sarah’s husband. Your identity – how you (and others) label and categorize yourself within your world – is a powerful thing. But it can either be empowering or crippling depending on how much external validation you attach to it. Did I change between the conference and the family party? Nope. But how I labeled myself for the benefit of society did.

How deeply rooted is your identity and sense of self? Can you have more than one identity? What happens when your identity is threatened? Is identity an internal or an external manifestation? Do we even need an identity? What happens when your identity (your ID card) has expired?

Do not confuse your identity with who you are at the core. Identity is an external manifestation of how you, and others, see you and how you believe you fit into society. You can be a chameleon – shifting your identity based on the audience or who you need to present yourself as. Or, your mother, former partner, or college professor may have “assigned” you an identity that you have grown into – good or bad. Over the course of your life-time you may fiercely protect an identity that you believe shows who you really are internally. You may lose yourself and find a new identity. You may be afraid to give up the identity that the world sees you as because your ego is getting in the way or because it has served to protect you from other parts of yourself you don’t want the world to see.

The key is to dig really deep and think about how you identify yourself and how the world identifies you. And then it is entirely up to you whether or not you want to accept that. You have the power to be whoever you want to be. You are probably already living true to yourself on the inside. Are you sharing that with the world or is your fear holding you back? There can be a ton of internal conflict around identity. Identity crises are real!


Let me give you an example: Ava is a successful lawyer who kicks ass and takes names daily. She works 80+ hours a week, getting up at 5am to email clients and works well into the night on depositions or case reviews. She has received several Rising Star awards, has started a blog to document her trials and triumphs as a young attorney in a small coastal town, and she takes a minimum of 1 pro bono case per month. She is Ava the Attorney morning, noon, and night. From the outside, she has it all – successful career, recognition in her industry, a promotion on the horizon, a supportive partner at home, and new puppy. But what we don’t see is that Ava works every weekend, eats take-out at her desk, falls into bed at midnight and mindlessly watches old episodes of Friends, she hasn’t had a real date with her husband in months, she doesn’t exercise, and often cancels plans with friends because she can’t fathom one more commitment on her calendar. Before becoming Ava the Attorney, Ava was multi-dimensional, loved spending time outside, could get lost in a good book for hours, and had a Etsy shop where she sold her artwork. But she has lost herself along the way to becoming Ava the Attorney. That is her only identity, which she wears proudly, but also often feels like a fraud. She has more to offer the world, and while that identity has served her well over the past 10 years, she wants more and knows she is more than just an Attorney. Full on identity crisis. Does Ava have to give up her success as an Attorney to also be a successful wife, artist, friend?

On the inside, Ava is all of those things, but she has only allowed one part of herself to shine through – Ava the Attorney. The world sees her in one way, and one way only, and Ava is constantly trying to live up to that expectation, while sacrificing other parts of who she is. But let me tell you something. You, or Ava, are not doing yourself or the world a favor by stiffing those others parts of who you really are! It will not be easy, but it will change your world if you are able to align your external identity with what’s going on inside. Ava may continue to hide behind her Attorney identity for many years until it becomes so suffocating that she breaks and is forced to make a change. But it doesn’t have to get to that point! You can crawl your way out of the deep hole of identity that you have placed yourself in or that someone else has forced upon you.

The strongest desire in humans is the desire to stay consistent with who we think we are (i.e. the identity we have created). Every choice we make, every action we take, is based on the desire to stay comfortable, to stay consistent, with who we believe we are. From the clothes we wear, to the partners we attract, to the jobs we take, to the sports we play, to the people we hang out with… all of those choices are based on an effort to stay consistent with who we think we are. But who are you really? A mother? A father? A teacher? A preacher? No. Those are just labels. In the example above, Ava’s ID (identity) card has expired. It is time for a reinvention or at the very least time to make room for some other identities to come out and play! But, do we even need an identity? I would argue no. Identity works for the short term and can certainly serve a purpose, but it should not hold you hostage! Humans are complex creatures.We are really just the person behind that label, witnessing the world.  You can either hide behind an identity that you or someone else has created or you can work to find out who you really are on the inside and say to hell with the labels! Most people are still trying to get something from life instead of realizing that life is just something we experience. When we realize that experiencing life is enough, then we don’t need the labels. You’ve already won by actually living.

Let’s keep the conversation going. What is your identity? Is that an identity that someone else has given you or one that you have assigned to yourself? Is that who you really are? Does it tell your whole story or is something missing? Post in the comments below!


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