I am made and remade continuously. Different people draw different words from me.

~Virginia Woolf

When I was young, one oft repeated statement in Hindi which would be mentioned often in Hindi movies (especially in Amitabh Bacchan’s movies!).. “Bada Hoke apney ma-baap ka naam roshan karega” ” Duniya mein naam kamana”. Directly or indirectly, they were telling us, that we need to make a name for our selves in life. We need to make our parents feel proud. Basically, we need to have an IDENTITY for ourselves when we grow up.

Identity cannot be found or fabricated but emerges from within when one has the courage to let go.

~Doug Cooper

So what is our identity? 

When we are young, our Parents defines our identity. We are son or daughter of so-and-so.

When we go to school/college. We gradually gravitate towards using the school to identify us. We are from so-and-so school or so-and-so college. Not that our parental genes don’t matter any more, but from intellectual growth perspective, its perceived that the school and college are contributing a lot (I have called this a perception, as its always a debatable topic and hence best to leave it that way!!) there.

  • Now think for a moment, that you are not going to a school. You are being home schooled (there are some 3.5mn students in US who are homeschooled). And you have guests over in the house. And the guest asks, what school do you go to? The reason he asks is, because at that age, its assumed that its your identity. Its because apart from the fact that you are a normal, well dressed, well mannered child, there is nothing else to consider as your identity.
  • If you fail in the final exam in any grade, it does not happen anymore now, but earlier, one would have to repeat the whole year. The biggest fear was not the fact that he/she will have repeat the year. The biggest fear was “log kya kahengey“. Its because the identity is dented.
  • Think for a moment that you have NOT got into an IVY league, or A grade college. A college which you just barely managed to get into, as it was better than just sitting at home. Now, what will be your identity? Will you still proudly share the name of your college/ ignore the topic/ or look for another identity for yourself.

As we move out of college and getting a professional life, our employer is our identity. If we go straight into entrepreneurship, we prefer just being considered an entrepreneur, till we are able to make our company a recognisable brand. And its not a bad deal at all, to be considered ‘just’ and entrepreneur. In fact, being on your own requires far more courage, resilience and grit (all the good skills you can ever imagine, include in the list!!). 

  • If one has an unceremonious exit or is laid off from his job, his first worry is NOT financial. Its social. What and how will he/she explain it to his family (less of a problem) and to the world outside (the REAL issue).  Its because the identity has been dented.

As we get older, reach close to our retirement life, we start getting worried, as to what will our identity be? What name card will you present if someone shares his own? What do you print on your own card? That, my dear friends, is the ‘naam’ that you were supposed to earn for yourself when you grow up.

So, what do we do?

We need to BUILD our own identity and not rely on crutches of our school, college, employer, or even our own startup (who says startups don’t fold and even if they do well, many of them get bought out and merge with bigger brand/entities).

Building identity means building your talent quotient. It might be in sports, arts, sciences or anything which can help you to stand out of the crowd. It does not necessarily mean taking up just one activity and trying hard to get really really good at it. That’s the eventual aim, but initially, focus on being versatile and keep a good balance of sports, arts and intellect. Read a lot about various topics, see what interests you more, then build a better acumen in that topic.

Once you have built that acumen, its important to talk about it, write about it. Write about your experience, encourage others to get inspired by you. Build a community where everyone can share and track their progress on what they are doing. And this could be anything, literally:

  • Sports Activities: Running, Cycling, Golf, Tennis, etc.
  • Arts: Dancing, Painting, Sculpting, etc.
  • Music: Singing, Playing instruments, etc.
  • Technology: Learning about BitCoins, Coding, AI, Etc.
  • Sciences: Explore various species, read about climate change, etc.
  • History: Read ancient history, various development and how it impacts life today.

When it comes to trying new things, we have our own preconceived notions. I am not good at this, I have a problem with that. Then there are others who colour our opinion on something. You are terrible at it. You would look so funny if you did that, etc. Among the tributes paid to my father the one that I liked the most was ‘Mr Sonpal was like water. He was flexible enough to take up shape of whatever container he was put into. At the same time, he was pure and transparent as water, one could see through him, he had no malice.” . Try to be like Water.

Either Write something worth reading about or Do Something Worth Writing about

– Benjamin Franklin

For women, especially after marriage, to continue working becomes a challenge as they take up the role of a home maker. Many are able to continue and many are not. But regardless of the case, it’s essential and even more important that women also work towards their ‘identity building’, as it will always count in the long run, once the kids grow up and go to college, its her identity which will really define her in her 50s and beyond.

Think of Others:

The other major area to build your identity in, is charity: do stuff for others. Inculcate the act of ‘giving’. What you do for yourself, gets forgotten after your death, what you do for others, makes you immortal. Don’t wait till retirement for starting charity. Give even before you have enough for yourself. 

As we approach old age, its not our school, college or our professional achievements that will hold stead with us. It will be our identity that we built that will. A lot of people criticise social media for its negatives, but I have always believed that the role which it place in helping builds our identity, is phenomenal and its very hard (not impossible, agreed), to do without it.

Live your life in such a way, that when people have to write on your tombstone, they will get confused, on what to leave out and what to keep.