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THE ROLE OF THE HOME IN DEVELOPING PERSONAL IDENTITY

THE ROLE OF THE HOME IN DEVELOPING PERSONAL IDENTITY

Personal identity plays a huge role in how we interact with the world. It informs how people and systems see us, treat us, and relate with us. It defines the opportunities that come knocking on our doors. Our personal identities are like perfumes that will never go away, the fragrance is entirely ours to decide. It could stink so bad that subordinates can find you irritating to work with and it could smell so pleasantly that you become a magnet at the workplace. When you step into the workplace, you do not shed your personal identity this is because your personal identity is the framework that guides the expression of your workplace identity. For this reason, it is crucial to take time to ensure that all employees have an understanding of personal identities and their relation to the workplace.

The term “personal identity” means different things to different people. Psychologists use it to refer to a person’s self-image—to one’s beliefs about the sort of person one is and how one differs from others. In philosophy, the term normally refers to philosophical questions about ourselves that arise by virtue of our being people, questions that may otherwise have little in common. Some philosophers use the term more loosely and include such topics as the nature of self-knowledge, self-deception, rationality, and the will. For the purpose of this article, I define personal identity as a person’s understanding of who they are and the uniqueness that makes them stand out from others. This is especially important to know because personal identities impact work and relationships with colleagues and organizational policies.

 

The home is the first building block for any human. The reason we all agree with the quote, “charity begins at home” is because we know that the foundational blocks for the moral compass, self-esteem, and identity of anyone are first developed at home. We are all a compendium of our growing up experiences. You are suspicious of that colleague at work maybe because when you were younger, mommy told the 4-year-old you to go back inside to put on your shoes so that you can both go out but when you returned in your shoes, she had gone, leaving you behind with broken trust. This trust that was damaged from your young age becomes the lens through which you see others so, you go around with suspicion. If you take a deep breath and look inward, you will find out that certain thought patterns you possess today are contingent on your home experiences. It is no surprise therefore when David Richo, a renowned American psychotherapist said, “the untreated traumas of childhood become the frustrating dramas of adulthood.” If parents are not deliberate in helping their children cultivate a healthy identity, these children will grow up using external factors like their work, their class, etc in defining who they are. When these things are taken from them, they lose themselves.

 

Let me share a quick story with you. It is the story of Beor and how his growing up experiences defined his sense of identity.

It all began as a rude shock when Beor realized that Zach’s proposal was chosen over his. It had never happened before where his suggestions, proposals, or contributions were not implemented. This was a first and it was devastating. Beor was a 27-year-old male who had attained great heights in his career. He was the youngest partner of an advertising multinational and was gunning to become the youngest Country Manager yet. Everyone at work knew that Beor had an uncanny talent to create frameworks and strategies out of thin air and make them into something grandiose. His organization had made great profits from this uncanny ability and they had not only saved a lot of money but made revenues that improved their standing in the stock market. Beor was of course pompous because he was literally untouchable. He was the organization’s ticket to stardom/becoming one of the “Big 4”. The “Big 4” is the nickname used to describe the top 4 Advertising agencies in the world. Many companies had tried to make it into the big 4 but these 4 could practically not be overthrown. Yet, Asheville Ltd was rising geometrically and were beginning to threaten the position of the top 4 all thanks to Beor. One day, Beor noticed a new face in his department. It was surprising for him because nothing happened without his knowledge. He dug into the matter and discovered that the new face was his competition for the position of Country Manager. Beor knew everyone’s ability in his department and knew that no one could successfully contend for that position but he knew nothing about this new face and decided to watch him closely. Eventually, it was the final strategic meeting for that fiscal year. A new focus was being set for the subsequent year and as usual Beor’s input had always been the game changer in helping the company grow. In his usual pompous state, Beor made his suggestions backed with irrefutable proofs and expected a unanimous agreement as always. But the new face, Zach, raised an objection and proposed a counter offer. The board went in the direction of the new face. Beor was devastated. His word had never been opposed before. Right from childhood, he was always in the right. This was the first time he was rejected and it hurt badly. When he got home, he hung himself.

 

This story might seem drastic but it really did happen. You might wonder why Beor reacted in that manner, after all, healthy competition in the workplace encourages growth, not just for the employees themselves but for the organization as a whole. So, why did Beor commit suicide; a permanent solution to a temporary problem?

The first was in his sense of identity. Beor had no life outside work. His sense of identity and self-worth was enveloped in his work. He did not understand that workplace identity is not the same as workplace identity [check out the difference here] so when his idea was not acknowledged, it was a direct assault on his sense of self; his very core.

The second was in his growing up experiences. His parents had no idea that they were raising him up to become competitive in order to gain their love. In High School, Beor did not start out as the best in class but it was a major improvement from his primary school grades. Still, his parents always berated him. He came second for the first tie in High School, really excited to show his parents how his hard work had paid off. Instead of sharing gin his joy and encouraging him, he was asked why he couldn’t be first. When he put in more effort and eventually came first with a percentage of 98%, a feat no one in his school had achieved,  he was asked why he couldn’t make 100%. It was a never-ending cycle of him feeling inadequate and not deserving of his parents’ love.

The third but definitely not the least was that Beor never had the opportunity to discover his purpose. Everything he had ever done was to prove to his parents that he was not a failure. That he was good enough to earn their love. His parents had no idea that their method of parenting was stripping their son of his sense of identity. They did not know that they were doing something wrong [which is why we have all of these resources to help parents on this journey of parenting in the 21st century]. By the time they found out, Beor was long gone.

 

Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development brings a powerful perspective to the role of the home in identity development. He emphasized the social nature of human development postulating that personality (or identity) is developed through 8 major stages and at each stage, there is a conflict or task, that needs to be resolved. Successful completion of each developmental task results in a sense of competence and a healthy sense of identity but failure to master these tasks leads to feelings of inadequacy. The first 5 stages occur before age 18 when the child is still legally a dependent (or minor) in many countries. So, if there is improper guidance on the part of the parents during any of the stages, that child, like Beor, can get stuck developmentally even though he chronologically matures. The fifth stage which is the stage of identity consolidation occurs during adolescence. Successful resolution of the crises in this stage leads to an ability to stay true to oneself, while failure leads to role confusion and a weak sense of self. This stage plays an essential role in developing a sense of personal identity which will continue to influence behaviour and development for the rest of one’s life. During adolescence, children explore their independence and develop a sense of self. Those who receive proper encouragement and reinforcement through personal exploration will emerge from this stage with a strong sense of self and feelings of independence and control. Those who remain unsure of their beliefs and desires will feel insecure and confused about themselves and the future. This is where you come in as parents.

Erik Erikson's Stages

Table Adapted From Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development

 

If you have children, you can start adjusting your parenting methods to ensure that they know that you absolutely love them whether they fail or not. This is not an endorsement for you to smother them with love and turn a blind eye to discipline. Your goal is to raise an emotionally agile adult whose sense of identity is well-rooted and developed. Love and discipline both work hand in hand but it is important that you understand what discipline truly means. It also does not mean that competition is bad. There is, however, healthy competition and toxic competition. Beor was raised to be toxically competitive. For some of us that did not have strong parental guidance to help us successfully navigate the stages proposed by Erik Erikson, chances are that we might have rooted our identity in the work we do. Just like Beor. Here are a few tips to ensure that you do not reduce your humanity to a single professional title:

 

1. Re-conceptualize success and achievement.

Taking pride in your professional achievements isn’t wrong. The job you got, the promotion you received, the company you founded, you’ve worked hard for them all. However, you need to remember that success is a multifaceted endeavour, and achievements outside the workplace matter as well. Society teaches us to think of success in terms of money and status but you must always remember that the true test of success is to live a happy and fulfilled life, to be comfortable in your own skin and understand who you really are. We will undoubtedly see a shift in the way that we view mental health as well as success as more people define themselves by these measures.

 

 2. Develop your social circle outside work.

You can develop non-work interests and values if you spend time with friends with no connection to your professional life. The benefits of this are that they remind you of who you are regardless of your professional success or failure. Of course, you can be a supportive friend, a gracious mentor, or an innovator for far longer than it takes to become your office’s “Employee of the Month” and it is much more valuable. Don’t you think so?

 

3.  Work stays at work.

Is your dinner conversation always about what’s going on at work? Be mindful of how much work worries intrude on your peaceful evenings. It’s okay to vent about work frustrations, but don’t let them dominate your conversations at home. Even more, you can set a rule which forbids work-related conversations within 30 minutes of arriving home leaving you room to bond with children and spouse at home. It is important to acknowledge that talking about work at home is not an issue in itself. The time it consumes is what is important. So, try not to make work your dominant conversations at home.

 

4. Maintain work-life balance.

It may sound obvious and cliche, but setting boundaries between your personal and professional lives is extremely important. Most of us know this, but only a few of us actually do something about it. Do you try to take vacations? You should try to take vacations without working during them. Can you take a day n a week off work to simply relax and be with family and friends? This equilibrium between work and life will give you breathing room to help you gain perspective on other wonderful things in life.

 

5. Reassess your core values.

Your values are what you stand for and what you consider as important. They define your identity and remain relatively constant over time. These values may be virtues like autonomy, integrity, love, or honesty. However, it is easy to lose sight of your values when work and life get busy. As your stresses get in the way, it’s easy to forget why you do what you do. Hence, it is important to always check in with yourself every once in a while. Ask yourself real questions like – has your attachment to work pulled you away from your core values? If the answer is yes, then it is time to take a pause and retrace your steps in order to let your values become the driver of your work goals, your personal goals, and even your family goals. Remember, your work should add meaning to your life, but it should not be the meaning of your life.

 

Summary

In spite of your growing up experiences, you need to remember that your position on the organizational chart does not determine your worth as a person. In other words, when someone criticizes your slide deck, remember that the criticism is directed at the slide deck, not at you. This perspective shift will help you build resilience and protect your self-esteem from inevitable setbacks and mistakes. You will be able to perform better in your role and live a more fulfilling life if you have a strong sense of self. Finally, do your best to raise the next generation right so that the untreated traumas of their childhood DO NOT become the frustrating dramas of their adulthood. 

 

 

 

 

 

WORKPLACE IDENTITY AND PRODUCTIVITY

WORKPLACE IDENTITY AND PRODUCTIVITY

Picture Source: Freepik

The work we do and who we are as individuals are deeply intertwined. When someone says, “can you please introduce yourself?”, what do you find yourself saying? Even if the question isn’t specifically about work, we often reply with our occupation. When we find ourselves in social situations like these, our jobs allow us to define and position ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with hinging ourselves off of a 9-5. The problem arises when our self-worth is too closely connected to our careers.  

What is Workplace Identity (WI)? 

According to M.M. Sulphey in his work published by the International Journal of Environment, Workplace identity (WI) is a multilayered and multidimensional phenomenon that describes one’s self-concept and understanding in terms of his/her unique work role. People’s respective work roles have a profound and alluring impact on their work environment. There may be drastic differences between individuals at the workplace, but ultimately, WI develops. A person’s workplace identity could be shaped by a variety of factors, ranging from their professions, job specifications, workplace, or team identities.

The importance of Workplace Identity is undeniable as it acts as an anchor for fostering a sense of attachment to the workplace. Furthermore, it correlates with a variety of work-based constructs, such as influential leadership, collaborative learning, work values, group identification and commitment among others. WI helps you develop a solid work ethic that can help distinguish you from the pack. It is, however, important that you must be able to identify your holistic sense of identity not just your workplace identity  —  which is but a segmented aspect of your full self. To do this, you must be able to answer the question “who am I?” without restricting it solely to your work role.  

It is not uncommon for us as human beings to label and objectify ourselves in order to understand our role in the world. Society reinforces our definition of self-worth by telling us that success is contingent on how we look, our social status, class, and political preferences but most especially, our achievements at work.  Of course, that is a fallacy. It is a trap! This trap is enforced when you unintentionally associate your full identity and self-worth with work making it increasingly difficult to separate the idea of meaningful work from a meaningful life. It becomes even more difficult to develop a healthy sense of attachment to the workplace without having a well-defined personal identity. This is why discovering one’s personal identity is imperative.

 

What do personal identities have to do with an organization’s work? 

Well, everything!

Self-image is what gives you your unique identity as a person. It is shaped by your personality traits, abilities, qualities, likes, and dislikes, belief system, and values. When people are able to describe these aspects of their identity easily, they typically have a fairly firm grasp of their own identity which is a very important asset in this social clime where there are multiple voices speaking to compartmentalize a person into what they want them to be rather than who they truly are. An inability to name more than a few of these characteristics may be indicative of an unclear sense of self.

It can be tricky to know exactly what you want or to take on a stable workplace identity if you don’t feel confident about who you are. For example, if you feel uncertain or indecisive when important decisions are to be made, you may end up making no decision at all. The implications of this can be devastating for a company that relies on the flat structure type of leadership where every employee is expected to display some level of self-leadership. There are two extremes to look out for in those who lack a sense of personal identity and choose to develop only WI.

The first extreme is that they are externally motivated and in seeking external validation, they can become prone to certain emotional vices such as people-pleasing, impostor syndromes, second-guessing their every decision among others. This is especially risky for leaders who sometimes have to make tough choices to help the organization’s growth. Such individuals develop a work identity that is unstable because their loyalty to the organization is dependent on how they feel they are perceived by those they are supposed to lead or on other extrinsic motivators. It is true that extrinsic motivators will elevate performance immediately, but they will also negatively affect performance later when a “reward” is not offered or the motivation is withdrawn. Also, if the promise of a reward is broken, performance will fall even further. This is not healthy for any organization as it directly affects productivity and turnover.

The second extreme is directly tied to the individuals themselves rather than the organization. When one’s sense of worth is tied completely to their performance in the workplace, they cannot take any form of criticism without feeling personally attacked. They easily engage in unhealthy competition and see every potentially smart employee as a rival thus fanning the flames of insecurity. This is risky for any organization because human beings are biologically wired for self-preservation. When a threat is introduced, one is bound to find ways to neutralize that threat even if it means deliberately sabotaging others to secure your position. Such behaviours can cost the organization greatly.  Because these persons have their personal identities rooted in their work, if that work is taken from them, it can emotionally affect them even to the extreme of tampering with their will to live.

Whichever the case, an understanding of your personal identity makes it easier to accept your entire self, both the traits you’re proud of and those you’d like to improve. If you do feel dissatisfied with certain aspects of yourself, you’ll have an easier time addressing those areas when you have a strong sense of your innate qualities and abilities. When you receive feedback from work, for example, you will not feel personally attacked because you know who you are. Successful organizations take into account the various identities of their employees in order to facilitate a thriving work environment and meet the needs of everyone involved. Organizations need to understand that personal identities impact the experiences of their employees, and should set structures in place to ensure all employees feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued.

 

Summary

Taking time out from your career to refocus on your self-worth and well-being may be appropriate if you have become so consumed in your professional identity that it affects your well-being. Maintain a healthy perspective by separating who you are from what you do, That’s the only way you can truly give your best both at work and in your holistic life.

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PS: In subsequent posts, we will delve into how to develop a healthy identity. If you enjoyed this post, kindly share it with your friends and networks. Together, we can cultivate wholesome workplace environments.

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