How your identity can hold you back
We all have this picture inside our heads of who we are. And let's face it, for most of us, we're probably a little bit more generous than reality warrants. Who doesn't secretly believe that they may be a little smarter, more attractive, and more moral than those around them?
We build up an identity of ourselves because without one, we'd be in an existential drift. Without some firm ground on which to stand with our personalities, we feel we'd simply fade away into nothingness.
This is all well and good, but the situation also exposes us to weakness.
Many times, I've been working with people who were extremely good at their jobs. They were competent and admired in their place of employment, and this formed an anchor in their identity which they could use to feel their existence was justified.
"I'm important and respected in my industry," they'd think to themselves, and smile on the inside.
And yet, often they wouldn't be happy in their workplaces. They'd talk about looking for jobs in other organizations - but they'd never do it.
This used to baffle me. I didn't think they'd have trouble getting new jobs, but they clung to the old hated ones like their life depended on it.
Eventually, I began to realise that it was probably because they were protecting their identity. If they went to job interviews and got turned down, that bullet-proof idea of themselves as champions of their profession would be shattered. And without that anchor, they'd be set adrift in a frightening world.
And so they never took the risk.
I also see it in people who want to attract a partner into their lives. They whine and moan about how difficult it is and blame the opposite sex for their problems. Yet, they never go out and attempt to woo anybody.
I suspect in some cases it's because part of their identity has something like "I'm attractive, I'm special" in it. By going out and trying to meet people, they risk getting rejected, and that wouldn't fit with their picture of themselves.
Of course there are millions of examples of this. You almost certainly have some of your own stored in your personal self-beliefs. Somewhere inside you is a firm picture of yourself as someone special. And you're probably afraid to test that assumption in the cold-winds of reality. Much easier to hide yourself away and imagine what a great person you are.
It hurts to have the assumptions about yourself shattered. No wonder so many people avoid it. Yet it is often a necessary part of personal growth.
Having reality highlight your incompetence with a hard slap in the face, and acknowledging that maybe you're not the champion you thought you were, is the first step towards competence. Have the courage to take it.
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