Identity: The Confused Concept

Most people are confused about their identity

Different ‘Takes’ on Identity

Two articles surfaced recently that discuss ‘identity’.

The first, written by Emily Peck, appeared in Fortune on September 1st 2021 and was called: Is your job title your identity? [1]

The second, compiled by Jackie Rittenhouse, was published in the John Hopkins News-Letter on November 16th 2021 and was entitled: On the journey of self-discovery. [2]

They have a common theme ‘identity’. Both are written by women. That’s where the similarity ends. For Emily, the term is utilised to discuss her job. For Jackie, it has to do with sexuality. Both have very different notions of what identity means.

Emily believed her career was a core part of her identity and, so, when she lost it, she lost an important part of her individuality which she was desperate to retain. On reflection, she discovered that her job is only one part of who she is.

Jackie thinks that identity can suffer drastic changes. She believes that figuring out your identity against modern views of sexuality and gender are confusing. So—she concludes—however someone chooses to identify themselves is good enough; the definition that matters to them is valid.

Both articles reflect the profound uncertainty infused in contemporary notions of ‘identity’. The term is used far too loosely, far too widely and far too frequently to have any significant value. And when meaning is removed from a word it becomes indefinable and utterly confusing.

Defining Identity

Identity can be defined succinctly and rigorously (you might like to start here). Doing so, removes the belief that our jobs have anything to do with the essence of who we are. Sexuality is the core mechanism that gives rise to our identity, but it is not our identity. Besides, identity goes beyond subjective choices that are simply ‘good enough’.

The transformation from vague notions of what identity might mean, to a clear understanding of our essence (or ‘sameness’), illuminates the solid base on which we develop ourselves, our outlooks, and our values. Our real identity or uniqueness grounds us robustly in our own being. It informs us that, no matter what happens, we are, as we always have been—though we may not have realised it—unique individuals with distinctive potentials, qualities and characteristics.

We may be confused as we negotiate the difficult process of maturing. We may be thrown off balance when life decides to spring unpleasant surprises on us (like losing a job). But rest assured, we can never have a real identity crisis; we can never lose our identity; nothing can touch it. The most difficult part of the journey to understanding identity is likely to be at the beginning when awkward cognitive adjustments must take place. However, it is worth the effort because the benefits are permanent.


[1] Peck, E. Is your job title your identity? Fortune (September 1, 2021) here.

[2] Rittenhouse, J. On the journey of self-discovery. The John Hopkins News-Letter (November 16, 2021) here.

For more on identity see other articles on this website, beginning with The Science of Identity here. Enjoy!

Identity Image

Wikimedia Commons here

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