When I was young, many well-meaning folks told me, “You look like your dad.”
I cringed. I wanted to become my own man.
What I failed to understand then, it is crystal clear now.
I stumbled upon Bryan Stevenson’s TED talk (@Tedtalks) through Carmine Gallo’s book — Talk Like TED. Carmine goes gaga over the sheer length of the standing ovation and great communication qualities in this speech. I found something more subtle and profound in this talk.
I walked away with a moment of truth — a true word that transcends professional life and even our own life — our identity. He introduces that word with context in a memorable way. As a kid, his grandma elicited a promise that he refrains from alcohol. At the time of the talk, he was in his 50s, successful beyond many of us would dream and yet he was rooted in that promise to his grandmother — it became part of his identity.
In a similar vein, during conversations with colleagues at work in Houston, I have heard stories of their ancestors and how they landed on Ellis Island and bloomed in this country. When they shared those stories, I could sense their feelings of identity with events long before they made their own mark on this earth. I was left wondering, does the power of our identity extend beyond our experiences?
What does all this mean in this digital age?
I posed this question to Chad Gundry, co-founder of Bragshare, whose passion for this topic stands out. He shared, “Visualize a timeline on your screen, on this special time line you have everything that matters most in your life — as snippets, posts, videos, pictures and words. Imagine it extending back in time, to your ancestors and events that predates you and has a bearing on who you are. Extend it forward by adding your aspirations. Don’t you think it gives a complete picture of you, your key stories and your identity? ”
As I was listening to him, I was nodding my head, something clicked. I was at SeaWorld with my family. During one of the shows, the host asked the teachers in the audience to stand up. Seated nearby, I saw a husband, holding a baby and nudging his shy wife, encouraging her to stand up. She did — with a mixture of coyness and happiness. The crowd acknowledged her along with all the other teachers. Her history mattered to society. The beautiful aspect — a personal visit to an amusement park overlays with her professional success. It is part of her personal identity. That made me think. The buckets we created on social media last decade are all good starts — personal network (like Facebook) and professional social media platform (like LinkedIn).
What about a single wholesome view of who we are?
Bryan Stevenson may have instilled the idea of identity. From time immemorial, mankind has left legacies in stone carvings. Yet, until we know someone well, we propel with the identities of stereotypes.
Can we all have identities not as stereotypes but as individuals even before someone meets us — something beyond resumes?
In this digital age, the beauty of the internet is the democratization of information. I remember pre-internet days when I had to research in a physical library. Sometimes, access to key information was prohibitively expensive or tough to get. On the home front, I have heard stories about grandparents giving grandchildren, notebooks filled with their life stories — cursively written with a fountain pen and embellished with black and white pictures.
Given the power of distribution of the internet, what better information to share than our identities — holistically across our past, present and future. A snapshot of our moments in histories through struggles and triumphs, the stories from our parents or grandparents that shaped us, our achievements at work and our aspirations of the future.
I look forward to the next wave of the digital age on what truly matters — a wholesome human identity, not as a number among the crowd, but as a unique person who makes her own footprints and imprints. A narrative that shares the story of our identity with our aspirations.
When stereotypes become a passé and each individual is celebrated and acknowledged for their identity, then I firmly believe we have arrived as a human race leveraging the internet in the most meaningful ways.