I is for Identity

1. The collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known.
2. The distinct personality of an individual regarded as a persisting entity; individuality.

The struggle of finding who you are is very common in your twenties. Trying to fit into the career world is a big part of figuring out who we are. For many twentysomethings their career becomes their identity. This is why choosing a career, or making a career change, can be so stressful. Your twenties are the time that you decide who you want to be and who you want to become.

Penelope Trunk frequently writes about finding yourself and how that can affect your success in career. I am honored to have Penelope share her wisdom with us GenPinkers.

This guest post was written by Penelope Trunk, a career columnist at the Boston Globe, who provides advice at the intersection of work and life on her blog Brazen Careerist.

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I learn the most about identity when I’m lost and I have to make a tough career decisions. Here’s the first time it happened:

When I graduated from college, I knew I wanted to play professional beach volleyball, but I was actually in Chicago, being a bike messenger in the snow, and I had no idea how I was going to get enough money to get to Los Angeles.

So I answered an ad someone ran for posing nude. I thought I could do it and get enough cash to get to LA. I went to the guy’s apartment. Insane, right? You are thinking this was not a safe move. I know. But I was young and sheltered, and I had never been faced with the problem of not having money.

I knocked.

The guy opened his door, and while I was still standing in his hallway he said, “Nice legs. But I can look at you and see this isn’t going to work.”

I said, “Huh?”

“Well. What can you do? You can’t just stand there. That won’t work.”

“What should I do?”

“See. I told you this won’t work.”

He told me to stand on my toes and toss my hair.

I couldn’t do it.

He told me to practice and then come back.

On my way home, I thought. “That guy sucks. And I should be in Playboy. In the centerfold. I could do a great job at the written interview.”

But by the time I got home, I was thinking how stupid it would be to spend my time figuring out how to get into nude modeling. That is only a stop-gap measure. Not a long-term way to make a living.

And I asked myself why I was doing that? Why wasn’t I doing something I’d be more proud of? I realized that the ways I choose to make money reflect who I am and how I see myself, and I need to start seeing myself as smart and clever. I always knew I was smart, but I didn’t present myself that way in the world.

That’s the moment I decided to switch. It seems obvious in hindsight, right? Of course getting paid to be smart is better than getting paid to be naked because it’s getting paid to be who I really am inside.

But we each struggle with this constantly, throughout our careers. How to figure out who we are inside and what career will be right for how we see ourselves now. It’s a constantly shifting alliance — what is our identity and what is the career that will reflect that.

Don’t be so arrogant as to think you do not consider such mismatched career moves for yourself as my nude modeling was for me. It’s very hard to find what career honors our identity. Identity changes as life changes And it’s hard to know what’s true to us at any given point. It takes a lot of vigilance and honesty and a willingness to shift when we’re totally off base.

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I am currently in the state of making a career decision that has definitely made me question how my career defines my identity. My biggest take away from Penelope’s words of wisdom are remembering to have a willingness to shift.

3 thoughts on “I is for Identity

  1. Another interesting conversation is how one’s career DOESN’T define one’s identity. Too many jobs are ordinary for all of us extraordinary people to find one that truly reflects who we are. So, let’s not neglect to consider the many alternative ways to honor our identities.

  2. Finding your footing in the job world is huge!

    There are a lot of unique challenges that arise in today’s job-hopping climate. When you’re just starting out, it is great that it is now generally accepted to switch jobs a few times. This gives twenty-somethings the ability to see what fits best, but at the same time sometimes SO much choice can be a bit overwhelming and just serve to confuse a person more.

    I don’t feel like there was a lot of emphasis on career exploration when I was in high school and even in college to some extent. I think that incorporating more of that might mitigate some of the difficulties that people can face when they leave college and being their careers.

  3. Maybe that’s why writing the description of myself is always the hardest part of creating a profile. What I’m doing right now isn’t what I really want to do. There are too many interesting directions I could take and I hate to pick just one of them.

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