I have 3 birthday posts for you, two of them only partially finished. The first one, this one, is about identity, about what I’ve found to be helpful way to answer, for myself, “Who am I?”
The second one is about honoring your father and mother with your actions and attitudes, which I believe is extremely important for personal and community thriving, but, sadly, not practiced seriously in modern culture.
The third is about breaking things and disappointing people, and about the price of being not just successful, but originally successful and distinct.
I’ll flesh them out when I have the time as work has been very busy, a mixed bag of exciting and frustrating. It’s all part of the entreprenuerial life. The beauty of this is that I don’t write as an observer but as a practitioner. I have a lot of skin in the game. When I talk about juggling the responsibilities of family, work, community, health, and our other requirements, I share from my experiences of running a growing startup, managing multiple companies and multiple investments, while also raising a startup family, and also diligently improving myself. This, I believe, gives me a level of credibility that a mere opinion from someone who is just interpreting quotes or giving comments on things they’ve never practiced does not have.
I did finish one of the three posts, this one, so here it is.
In This Moment
Who am I?
This is a question we take for granted until something shakes our identity, or to put it more accurately, until something shakes that which we have built our identity on. What we have built our identity on becomes obvious by what causes us to lose our peace. In my case, I have observed that business threats and business failures cause me to lose peace because I’ve placed a lot of my identity in my role as a businessman. If I’m not a successful businessman, then what am I? A failed businessman? An inconsequential businessman? These are questions my mind wrestles with, particularly, as I said, when business is shaken. Interestingly enough, I don’t care if, let’s say, the fashion world was shaken. I don’t suddenly ask myself, “Am I bad designer?” or “Don’t people like my work?”. Why? because I have no stake in that world. I have no identity connected to that. I could be wearing a black t-shirt everywhere (like I currently do) and even be given an award for worst dressed CEO and it still wouldn’t shake me at all. Who I am is not affected by fashion. (I’m only using fashion because it’s one of those things I’m not too particularl about. It could be anything, like the world of stamps, or horse racing. Because I’m not a part of that world, because I have no identity connected to it, shaking it doesn’t affect me. But with the things that affect me identity, if you shake them, they will shake me.)
I started asking myself this question more deeply, and some first thoughts included:
1. I am my roles: I am a husband, a father, a manager, a friend, a son, etc…
2. I am my affiliations: I am a part of Bridge, a member of the Bonifacio family, a volunteer at Habitat for Humanity, etc…
3. I am my capabilitees: I am a voracious reader, I am an extremely hard working guy, I am someone who can run a marathon, etc…
I kept finding more and more categories that affect my self-image, until I ran into one that depressed me:
…I am my regrets. I am someone who has done things he wishes he never did, who wishes he could erase any memory of certain actions, or even better, turn back time and done things differently.
A flood of regrets crushed my mind, as I remembered event after event. “I shoudn’t have done this”, “I should have done that instead”, and “I wish I could fix that” kept coming up as I recalled painfull, embarassing, and sad moments.
This avalanche of negative memories triggered more devious self-imagery.
“I am a fool.”
“I am evil.”
“I am fake.”
I had to stop myself. It wasn’t helping. I sat there confused. Who am I? Yes, I can honestly say I am the worst parts of me. There’s too much evidence of that to deny it. I have been foolish. I have been evil. I have been fake. I have been a whole lot of horrible things. But I’ve also been good. I’ve also been virtuous. Am I fake for being a mixed bag? Do the bad parts of who I am cancel out the good parts? Who am I?
Then it hit me: Who I am, who I really am, is who I am in this moment.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say my wife and I get into an argument due to my impatience (which is 99% the cause of our fights), in that moment of impatience, I am not “wise David” or “insightful David”. I am not a “good husband” nor a “good leader”. Who I am, in that moment, is “impatient David”, “harsh David”, “angry David”. I am, in that moment, an ugly version of me. But in that moment, at any moment, I have a choice to be a better version of me, to decide instead to be a virtuous David, someone patient instead of impatient, someone gentle instead of harsh, and someone peaceful instead of angry. And if I choose then to be patient instead of impatient? Then I become “patient David”. If I choose to become gentle? Then I am “gentle David”. And if I choose to be peaceful? Then I am at peace. I am no longer an ugly version of myself, despite the reality that my wife might still be mad at me, desite that there still may be tension, and despite the case that I may be sleeping on the couch. I am a better version of me, despite the consequences brought about by the ugly version of me. And if I bear those consequences with virtue, meaning, with courage, with peace, with honesty, with kindness, with patience, with gentleness, and all sorts of goodness, then I am, in that moment, defined by those virtues, not by the consequences I may be facing.
Who I am, who I really am, is who I am in this moment.
So let’s say I failed big time, and it causes me my job. Yes, I am a fired, jobless, maybe embarassed David. But if choose to look for what I can learn and do better, then who I really am is teachable David, and if I choose to thank God for the experience, then I am grateful David too. I am not defined by my work failure, but by my moment by moment response.
Let’s say I have no money, and have to pay off debt. I don’t have to be “poor David”. I can, from this moment on, be “money-wise David” by deciding differently on future financial decisions. I may have been “money-dumb David”, but by choosing better right now, and committing myself to choosing better in future “right nows”, I am someone new, someone better.
But this is a double-edged sword. Just as I don’t need to be trapped by past mistakes, I shouldn’t rely too much on past achievements. I may have been extremely generous in times past, but if I decide to be selfish in this moment, then, in this moment, I am not a compilation of generosity, but a selfish man. Just as it is protection from bitterness and being swallowed by regret, it is also a guard against pride and thinking too highly of one’s self. I may have succeeded in things past, but in this moment, am I succeeding in being the person I have to be?
The past mistakes are beyond my reach. They exist in a moment I can no longer recover. The past achievements though beneficial do not matter as much as today. And the future? Who knows what the future will bring? Why hinge my identity on what may or may not happen? But in this moment, the only moment I am ever actually in, there are only two choices: Will I or will I not be the person the moment requires me to be.
I can hear my baby crying. Time to be that man.