Your Identity


“You never get a second chance to make a first impression—make it one that will set you apart and reflect who you are.”

The above quote, in my opinion, is just so wrong.

The emphasis today on having a personal brand, a narrative, defining who you are is constantly being shouted by the media of its importance for success. 22 Statistics That Prove the Value of Personal Branding Entrepreneurs, leaders, and anyone with a social media presence has become obsessed with understanding How to Define Your Personal Brand in 5 Simple Steps.

Today, people are obsessed with their personal brand, having a narrative, or putting people into a narrative, so that person can be categorized within our minds. We know what they do and what they can help us with. I feel social media plays a big role here, as social media enables “likes” and dopamine responses based on this identity or personal brand you have created. Therefore, you get more attached to it.

But these identities and narratives can hold us back.

“You can tweet out into the world and then many others will react, so you feel your sense of identity is growing. This divisiveness is created by humans who don’t know who they are. They have not had access to the deeper dimensions within themselves.”

Eckhart Tolle

If having one clearly defined personal brand/identity/narrative, that you only get “one shot at to make a first impression,” then why are some of the most successful stories in history comeback stories.

If having one clearly defined personal brand/identity/narrative was the path to great success why are so many of the greatest artists, inventors, entrepreneurs, and scientists polymaths. They write about how they found great value, power, and insight from switching industries, names, and brands/narratives. They did not let themselves get attached to a narrative or having one single identity.

“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”

[Stanford University commencement speech, 2005]”
― Steve Jobs

If having one clearly defined personal brand/identity/narrative was the path to great success, why did David Bowie make a point to change his identity every five years?

It was relatively normal practice at the time to take on a stage name, but Bowie took that tradition one step further: David Bowie wasn’t just a pseudonym. The name change was linked to his penchant for creating an ever-changing persona, rock historian John Covach told TIME. “What started out as a simple name change became a character,” the 56-year-old director of the Institute for Popular Music at the University of Rochester in New York. “That part was enormously innovative.”

“What started out as a simple name change became a character,”

But in reality, it is hard to change our identity. Why? Why is it so hard to let go?

#1: You Are Not Who You Think You Are

I had a reading done from an intuitive coach back in 2015, and at the end of the reading he mentioned, “you are not who you think you are.” I hung up the phone and started to cry. Who am I? I had a huge wave of emotion as I thought I knew who I was and it was an empty feeling to not know who I am. But that’s exactly it. I was holding onto an identity of who I thought I was for the safety and security in it. My story/identity was known to my peers and accepted. But this attachment to the identity that I had built and society had accepted, in actuality was limiting.

When I detached from the box that my self created “identity” held me in – I felt and was free.

“I am a person before I am anything else. I never say I am a writer. I never say I am an artist…I am a person who does those things.”
― Edward Gorey

#2: Let Go

In 2014, I founded and launched Roomhints. The first iteration of Roomhints was a mobile app where people uploaded a photo of their room and got hints/ideas directly from a designer as to what furniture items to purchase. The app was doing fine, it had a nice organic influx of new customers per day and existing customers. But I knew that I wanted more than to help people to solve their interior design questions through an app. As time went on, I was no longer as fulfilled compared to the excitement at the beginning. I wanted to build something bigger and with more meaning. But how do you get to the bigger version of you from the present version of you?

In order to grow and move into who I wanted to be in this life, not who others wanted me to be in this life, I had to let go of the current me. Let go of any beliefs of who I am based on how I presented myself to society. I had to open up to letting my identity be fluid and expansive. This is a growth mindset and it takes a huge amount of courage.

This is a mindset that is not for everyone. Most people fear change. But if you thrive on it, it makes it easier to change each time you need to.”

Sam Walton. Founder Walmart

As humans, we are not the best at changing, even though change is the only constant. With any change comes fear or resistance at first, from friends, family, and associates. They might not know how to relate to you anymore and in fear, will try to deter you from changing. From growing. They mean well and they might not be on the same path you are on, so stick to your knowing. Listen to your heart. And quite honestly it will be tough to avoid making this change. Your inner voice will haunt you every day until you do 🙂

Also, if you don’t let go you will miss out on opportunities that are right in front of you.

From the movie Rocketman:

Wilson: I’m a skinny black kid from Detroit, whose real name is Rodney Jones. And I played roadside joints for ten years before I realized what I had to do.
Elton John: What, change your name?
Wilson: It’s not just your name. You got to kill the person you were born to be in order to become the person you want to be.

#3: Accept that You are Constantly Evolving

Personally, I do a lot of different things that do not make any linear sense. I follow my interests at the time and learn the skills based on these new expanding disciplines. I have an undergraduate degree in Biology from Queens University, a Masters in Interior Design from Parsons, the Newschool, and an associate’s degree in Computer Science from UC Berkeley. My “identity” is constantly evolving. Those close to me would make comments “you are switching your career again?” or “are you ever going to be happy just sticking with one thing?” Or “it’s not good to move around a lot on your resume.” But I never listened and over time I noticed they would say, “you will continue to surprise me.” They went from resistance to my constant changes to accepting it, as they knew their voice, and opinion of my changes was not being heard. So they may as well accept it.

#4: Be Mindful of your Limiting Beliefs Based on Your Self Professed Identity

What is a limiting belief? A belief that you have that is not necessarily true. This belief could be from your family, society or your environment. For example, you are 5’2″ and tell yourself that you are never going to be a good climber because you are too short. Steve Curry is one of the greatest basketball players of our time and was told in high school he was most likely too short to make it to the NBA. Instead of letting this belief shape the course of his love for basketball – he proved it wrong.

For me, I was told over and over that I would never be successful at building a technology startup because I did not know how to code and had no prior experience building a technology startup. This belief could have limited my actions from moving forward. But how was I going to go after my dream and get experience if I didn’t dive right in and start a startup?

#5: Adopt an Expansive/Fluid Identity that Will Change

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”
― Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

I started to take a look at my identity with a more expansive nature.

I am a compassionate, loving being helping humans and the planet to build a better future.

Eckhart Tolle notes that when people ask who he is, he will say “I am a spiritual being living a temporary human experience.” He also notes that most people will have a blank face when he says this as they are not expecting this response. 🙂

Sara Blakely does not identify herself as the founder of Spanx, she identifies herself as someone who helps women.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, it is very rare, or in my opinion, boring, to have the same identity or narrative for your entire life. The sooner you can understand that “self is an illusory entity,” by Buddha, the easier it will be to constantly change and grow among the new challenges presented.

Know your values, beliefs, what you stand for, and be open for your identity to constantly be evolving and changing.

“I am my own experiment. I am my own work of art.”
― Madonna

Tiff Willson

Tiff Willson is a technology entrepreneur, investor and keynote speaker. Today she is the founder of the #1 platform for sustainable interior design


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