Life is full of antagonists, conflicts and fortunately, resolutions. But in this narrative, you control the plot, the setting and most importantly, the main character. Learn how to develop a value-based system for outlining your own uniquely fulfilling story.
Identity is individuality. It sets a person apart from others- name, gender, age, status and other identifiers- and consists of personally distinctive details- hair color, eye color, height, weight, etc. Social status, demographic data, societal labels, professional titles, legal classifications, along with descriptive details of appearance- all of these characteristics are very concrete, but not entirely set in stone. A person can certainly change, over time, for better or worse.
However, identity is comprised of far more than just what can be seen, heard or measured by others. Though seemingly quantifiable and concrete, identity really goes much deeper to include personality, temperament, feelings and opinions. Identity resides in the depths of your soul, not just on the outside, where appearances rule.
A person’s core identity contains abstract qualities, traits that are not easily seen or measured, more qualitative and much more subjective than one’s social identify. Your core identity is the real you, very abstract and much harder to just casually observe, and therefore prone to misinterpretation. So, the person you see in you, may not be who others see in you.
Both identity and image are formed though the perceptions of others, what they see, what they hear, emanating from you. Image is much less factual and more opinion-based. An image is an interpretation based outer appearances, an impression in one’s mind. Image, though somewhat steady, can change frequently, also for better or worse.
If you want to get an idea of someone’s image, one way would be to ask those familiar with that person. After a while, asking a lot of questions from several people, you’d start to get a mental picture. But these are still ideas from other people, and ideas often diverge from fact. You’ve heard of making good first impressions? Someone’s image of you can be formed immediately and not always accurately.
Like any other perception, an image may or may not entirely reflect actuality. Images are influenced by opinions, attitudes, biases, cultural norms, personal judgments, along with the observer’s educational, physical or mental state. Images can change or even disappear altogether, but reality remains. Recognizing reality requires looking beyond surface appearances and taking a moment to truly understand a situation deeply.
Categories make life easier. People don’t have the time or patience to form individual conclusions so they go with the crowd, what is on social media, the news or whatever. The truth often ends up shrouded in misconception because it’s easier to just follow what everyone else is saying. Thinking can be a lot of work and time-consuming, and that is why most people are so easily influenced, again, you guessed it, for better or worse.
Just about everyone seems to have some sort of opinion on just about everything, and those views easily go viral, resulting in “group think” or “mob rule.” Too much consensus and not enough free-thinking leads to a lack of individuality, and also results in opinions based on feelings and reflexive thoughts, rather than upon any concrete evidence.
An image is really just an interpretation, and it is very difficult to prove an abstract idea false. This why the accuser has the burden of proof, and why we employ the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. These fundamental ideals go back to ancient Roman law, over 2000 years ago, carry through the middle ages, and still stand today, at least in theory, in both U.S. and world courts.
Perceptions change very rapidly. Who you always thought yourself to be can dramatically change in a matter of minutes. Again, perception isn’t necessarily based upon reality. It’s simply the way a situation is interpreted. Although thinking patterns vary from person to person, surprisingly, perception doesn’t always seem to deviate much from one individual to the next.
Words, labels and other identifiers are powerful. We are all referenced by a never-ending array of adjectives- beautiful, ugly, fat, skinny, disabled, athletic, old, young, smart, funny, wealthy, etc. Although at times annoying or plain unfair, labels are a necessary evil. They are often stigmatizing but also distinguishing, helping in setting us each part from one another, providing us individual character, structure and definition.
The term authentic is a description of character recognized as being genuine, steady and reliable. Those portraying authenticity tend to display those characteristics, along with honesty, confidence, understanding and perseverance. Authentic people are open and honest about themselves, both strengths and flaws, and they are also forgiving of others’ weaknesses.
The opposite of authentic would be indecisive, pretentious, insecure, insincere, dramatic or maybe even manipulative. The result would be an unbalanced sense of self. An over or under-inflated self-concept would likely lead to problems in relationships- in delegating, working in groups or with recognizing authority.
“You can either be the victim of your words or the architect of them, which one would you prefer?” – James Clear
You can change your hair color, your name, your address, your occupation, your marital status or your even your gender. Flexibility is great at times, but you’d better have a firm sense of who you are, a stable core identity. Because if you don’t know who you are, someone else will label you, and you may not like the tag they stick on you, which is why self- authenticity and self- authorship are both so vital.
No one person or entity has the authority or power to write your script for you. Despite what societal institutions or even friends and family say, you must know and portray who you are. Authorship names the originator of a creation, usually of a literary work. Self-authorship, therefore, refers to the internal capacity to direct and regulate one’s own image and identity. A value system provides an outline for your narrative.
Values are the basic principles of life that are most important to you, and of course, they vary widely from one person to the next. Some people value time more than wealth. Some may find status more important than income. You may choose family over career, tranquility over excitement, travel instead of domestic life. When you know your values and keep them in the forefront of your mind daily, your decisions begin to revolve around those values.
Your values provide a navigational map for your goal-setting. When values are recognized, focus becomes much easier. You know what is important now, what can wait until later and what can be tossed out completely. When you have a values-based strategy in place, decision-making becomes easier because you have already formed a set of guidelines and protocols that will apply to a myriad of situations.
It’s easy to lose track of your goals unless you incorporate them into your daily routine and decision-making. The best way to gain a new skill or perspective is to practice it each day. Eventually, being who you want to be simply becomes natural habit.
Try these authenticity boosting habits:
- Develop a value system and use this system daily as a guide for decision-making. Meditate each day on your core values, the ideals most important to you.
- Don’t get caught up in letting society define you. Describe yourself using creative metaphors and imagery. Use self-chosen labels to set yourself apart, in a good way, and help clarify your core values.
- Know your talents and the value that you provide to others and demonstrate those traits daily. In this world, actions speak louder than words. Don’t just talk, do.
- Strive each day to make your actions match your values. Outwardly portray an honest image of who you really are.
- Form all opinions based on knowledge instead of notions.
- Change only to satisfy yourself, not to just suit others.