Recent discussions about confidence have led us to explore identity, or how you answer the question, “Who am I?” Identity in this context isn’t about your job, other life roles or what you do. What we’re talking about here is the core of who you are. This core includes:

What is important to me? What values am I holding myself accountable to uphold? What priorities matter most?

What is success? Who determines my success, and how is it measured?

The core of your identity can be a solid foundation for personal and professional success and happiness. What are the elements of a harmful core?

I try to project a “persona” that is inconsistent with how I feel inside. Marshall Goldsmith writes in Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back If You Lose It: “Mojo is that positive spirit toward what we are doing now that starts from the inside and radiates to the outside.” If you try to be something or someone on the outside that doesn’t jive with what’s inside, you are doomed to failure. People can sense the disconnect between your inward and outward selves, and the effort it takes to keep up the charade will take a toll.

I believe that external forces make me act this way. People with a strong core will not bend to external pressure to violate their code or ignore their priorities. If they do make a mistake in judgment, they immediately take action to ensure that they do not do it again. As Albert Einstein said, “Relativity applies to physics, not ethics.”

What people think about me is vital. Looking for external validation is a never-ending battle. People with a strong core identity don’t need others to tell them that they are good or did a great job. It might be the icing on the cake to get an “atta girl” comment, but knowing that something meaningful was achieved is sufficient (and darn tasty cake!). People’s perceptions matter to a certain extent, but they aren’t a requirement for happiness or satisfaction.

If I make a mistake, it shakes my sense of self. A strong core is not very permeable. That is, things that happen or mistakes you make don’t have a long-lasting or major effect on how you perceive yourself. Major blunders may cause you to re-examine what’s important, but everyday, human mistakes are learned from and taken in stride.

How can you beef up your core identity?

Figure out what’s important and how you’ll define success. Think about people you admire. What qualities do they exhibit that you want to emulate? How would you want people to describe you? When your life is summarized, what do you want people to remember?

Share it with others. Make your values, priorities and definition of success public to increase your accountability. Ask a trusted person to help you stay aligned with your core, giving ongoing feedback and guidance.

Explore inconsistencies. When you perceive that your internal and external selves don’t match up, take the time to figure out why. Use that insight to create a core you can live by in all circumstances.

Your core identity is your choice. You have the power to decide who you are and what you value. In the final analysis, however, what you do matters more than what you say is important. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Action expresses priorities.”


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