We Showcase Our Identity, But Who Are We Really?

We publicize our identity with license plates, face masks, and yard signs. But is that who we are?

We Showcase Our Identity, But Who Are We Really?
Photo by Alexandre Chambon / Unsplash

“I saw your post on LinkedIn,” my boss said the other day. It was the last day we were in the office together before moving remote for the next month or two. “You were in some documentary? Who even are you, Justin?”

It’s a great question. By day I’m a nonprofit consultant, and by night I run The Writing Cooperative while managing my content writing. Unless you know where to look, my various worlds don’t often cross. LinkedIn is one of those places where the planets align, and you can see a number of my multiple sides in one place.

That same day my wife said, “I have a story for you to write: ‘How Do You Communicate With Someone Wearing a MAGA Mask?’” Regardless of your political beliefs, projecting a candidate across your face invites judgment from others. While we are all brought up and taught not to judge, the truth is we not only judge people daily, but we also invite judgment from others.

My boss didn’t know about my writing business because I don’t project it across my face. Sure, we have branded t-shirts, but on the few days I was in the office, I preferred standard business casual. I’d rather people get to know who I am rather than immediately invite them to develop an opinion based on their preconceived biases. For this same reason, I stopped wearing team apparel in public and changed my license plate from my college alma-matter to the normal state one.

The version you see of me — whether it’s who I am at work, how I appear online, or how I appear while grocery shopping — is only a piece of my complete identity.

I am a Millennial, which is another facet of my identity. I’m about the oldest Millennial possible, but I’m still part of the generation. With birth years spanning from 1981 to 1996, Millennials grew up during the largest technological change in decades. In elementary school, we had a tv where you had to get up and change the channel on the device physically. By high school, we had a home computer with the internet. Our society progressed quickly during my adolescence.

George Barna, researcher and founder of the Barna Group, was never a fan of the Millennial moniker. He dubbed my generation Mosaics. Previous generations formed due to major societal events — The Greatest Generation developed as a response to global war, and The Baby Boomers resulted from winning that war. Instead, Barna saw no single defining characteristic uniting the development of Mosaics/Millennials. We are a generation of complexities, individuality, and uniqueness.

In Chap Clark’s book on adolescence, Hurt, he described this adaptability as looking at someone through windows in a house. Depending on which window you look through, you might see a different angle of the person. Because of the walls and angles, you never see the entire person. You’re seeing me through the open window available to you at that moment.

Being an election year, many people are proclaiming their allegiance with yard signs, bumper stickers, and giant flags. I’m all for supporting the candidate you want to win the election, but doing so causes everyone you encounter to make a preconceived judgment about you based on their own biases. Yes, some judgements are warranted, but in our polarized world, why do we give each other more reasons to disconnect than come together for a conversation?

Spend some time with me, and you don’t need to look at my t-shirts or Twitter feed to know who I am and what I believe. As you get to know me, more of those windows open, and a clearer image of my identity starts to appear. I prefer that approach to potentially pushing you away before we begin communicating.

I’m not advocating we hide who we are. Instead, we should identify our own preconceived biases and judgments we place on others. When we own how we size people up and what triggers in our brain, we are more aware of how to invite fewer judgments from others.

Our world pits us against each other. Instead, let’s work towards finding ways to come together. Removing judgment opens ourselves up for opportunities to learn, grow, and heal. Together. That is a much better option than judgment any day.

Justin Cox Justin Cox

Justin Cox is a donut-loving, word-writing, nonprofit consultant based in Orlando. He also runs The Writing Cooperative on Medium. Come say hello!