In my last post, I talked about how people sometimes mistakenly identify themselves by their mental health diagnosis. But a diagnosis isn’t the only way we misidentify ourselves. It’s easy to do that in other ways as well.
Don’t believe me? Take this simple test. The next time you’re hanging out with a group of people, listen to the ways you and they talk about and identify themselves. “I’m a carpenter.” “He’s a pediatrician.” “I’m a nurse.” “She’s a school teacher.” “I’m a lawyer.” “I’m a stay-at-home mom.”
Our natural tendency is to identify ourselves with what we do. Our jobs. Our professions. But fundamentally, as important as our jobs are, we are not the job. Our value and worth can’t be based on any job or profession. A job is how we function in a particular capacity for a specific purpose, but who we are isn’t what we do.
I’m often identified by others as a counselor. But honestly, I’m not a counselor. Yes, I have the requisite degrees, certifications, and licensure stating that I’m approved to practice the counseling profession in my state. But I’m not a counselor. Instead, I describe myself as a man who does counseling. Do you hear the difference? The difference is between identity (who I am—a man) and function (what I do—I counsel).
Counseling is something I do. But my identity is that first and foremost I’m a man, made in the image of God, worthy of love and respect, and I counsel. Someday, due to age or circumstances, I will no longer function in the role of a counselor, but my identity won’t change.
At the core, identity always goes back to image, not the image I create for myself with my public presentation of my profession, but the image that God created me in—His image (Gen. 1:26-27). And that image is foundational for understanding the value and worth of every human being.
It’s the image that the invisible God has etched on every human soul regardless of race, gender, age, socioeconomic status, nationality, or profession. Any other basis for identity is merely descriptive.
If our identity is tied to our job, well, in a nutshell, we’re in trouble.
The reality is that our jobs and professions can and do change. Statistics tell us that the average stay in a job is 4.1 years and that most adults will have 7 to 10 job changes throughout their working careers. If one’s identity is based upon one’s performance, what happens when the job, the profession, or the career we relied on is lost? An identity crisis. Many people don’t know who they are without their work. And with the instability in the job market coupled with the shifting sands in the current economic climate, an identity based on one’s work can be tenuous at best and can feed into chronic feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.
Remember: You have an identity given to you by God Himself when you were being formed in your mother’s womb (Ps. 139:13-14). It’s an identity you can never lose. Living with a renewed focus on your true identity can save you from investing massive amounts of time, energy, and money trying to create an image for yourself that will inevitably disintegrate.
So, who are you? Does this identity and image thing strike a cord with you? Let me hear from you.