If you don’t make a name for yourself, someone will make one for you.
This has been a mantra of mine ever since my first book went viral, which led to my appearance on a nationally syndicated news program.
Millions of viewers saw my debut interview, which had the following job title underneath my head.
How proud my parents must have been. Four years of college and that’s what my degree yielded. And not that the producers were wrong.
Twenty years ago, the title of nametag wearer accurately encapsulated a significant aspect of my life.
But today, while the nametag identifies me, it doesn’t define me. It’s a part of me that used to be the heart of me.
And that’s the thing about the self. Not only does it constantly evolve, but it’s also this thing we get to determine and manage on our own terms. Certainly, our sense of identity is shaped by interactions within social groups, but at the end of the day, we are the ones who get the last word on who we are.
We don’t have to allow others to determine our priorities for us. Each of us can define happiness for ourselves and seek it in our own way, if we choose.
Now, in my experience, if there was a single organizing principle of human identity, it would be meaning.
Frankl famously wrote that ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for. His philosophy suggests that if authentic living is truly important to us, then we should actively build a system for making meaning that is uniquely appealing to our values.
Big word there.
Do you know what your top values are? Could you recite them from memory right now if somebody asked?
That’s the first step in building your meaning making machinery. If you haven’t taken the time to whittle down your list of values in the past few years, it’s a low effort high reward exercise that’s worth doing.
Because once you know who you are, the vast majority of your decisions become easier, cleaner and faster.
Which job should you take? Should you meditate today? Is this relationship healthy for me? Does living in this city serve my soul?
It might sound silly to think of knowing thyself as a form of leverage, but it really is. People who have deeply meaningful and fulfilling lives almost always have a tight grasp on their values. They don’t need to validate their decisions against anyone else’s standards and practices.
My colleague was lecturing me on this recently, but not in a bad way. She gave me some advice about my new software venture, cautioning me not to fall into the trap of externally driven rules, but to hold strong to the internally grounded soil of values.
The question she left me with was a powerful one:
Can you feel successful with this business, even if your definition of success doesn’t match everyone else’s?
Certainly hope so, although only time will tell. Maybe she should ask me again a year from now.
Until then, I’ll keep chanting my favorite identity mantra, if you don’t make a name for yourself, someone will make one for you.
It was true on my first day of wearing a nametag, and will likely still be true on my last.
Hey, my name might not be perfect, but at least it’s still mine.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
Are you committed to a path that will drive you towards success on your own terms?