Three simple words.
Identity is destiny.
An executive mouthed them to me after a talk.
He meant it as both undeniable and auspicious.
“Our organization’s identity is its unique advantage.”
He probably believed the same to be true of individuals.
I see it quite differently.
Like him, I see the statement as self-evident.
But it’s not an empowering aphorism.
Especially in times of rapid change.
It’s a cautionary adage.
Because what is identity?
Identity is a story.
An invented narrative that connects our past to our future.
A linear mental model of ourself or our group.
Especially relative to how we appear to others.
Whether it’s our family, friends, company or industry.
Identity is a collective construct.
Built around socially consequential qualities and beliefs.
The illusion that identity is destiny is really quite strange.
Consider psychological and sociological studies.
People think they tell us who we are and what we should expect.
The same is true of personality and brand assessments.
But what they really describe are how we’ve been conditioned.
It’s like studying polluted water.
And then telling us how to swim in it.
It’s based on what we’ve become.
Not on what we should be or could be.
And that’s a shame.
Because we’re living in turbulent times.
A dynamic world of possibility.
One that requires fresh thinking and bold action.
And for that, we need to kill our comforting stories.
Go back to the source.
And purify our minds.
The choice is yours (and mine).
Either we break free of our manufactured identities.
And be a lively force for change in the world.
Or we stay in our stories.
And stick to our knitting.
The former will bring us exciting lives.
Ones driven by our unique essence.
And filled with spirited and meaningful action.
And the other will bring us more of the same.
And comfortable wool sweaters.
Which we’ll most likely need.
In the cold, barren future of irrelevance.

Note: This piece was inspired by a wonderful conversation with Michael Covel of Trend Following. Here’s a link to the interview:

Unlike a drop of water which loses its identity when it joins the ocean, man does not lose his being in the society in which he lives. Man’s life is independent. He is born not for the development of the society alone, but for the development of his self.
— B. R. Ambedkar