We are the sum of our identities
Here’s something you probably didn’t know about me - I’m a huge Marvel movie nerd!
In my favorite movie of the franchise, Infinity War, there’s a scene that touches on an interesting topic - we are the sum of our identities, not the identities themselves.
In that scene, Vision is trying to convince the rest of the Avengers to kill him in order to destroy the Mind Stone (one of the six Infinity Stones) which is actually a part of him (don’t ask), but Bruce Banner jumps in and says that may not be necessary.
He explains that Vision is made up of a bunch of different identities all working together - The Mind Stone, him, Iron Man, Ultron, Jarvis, and that they may be able to remove the Stone and save Vision.
The Mind Stone, Bruce Banner, Iron Man, Ultron, and Jarvis are all parts of Vision
Just like Vision, we are not one homogeneous person, but a collection of identities all working together.
On a recent episode of Modern Wisdom, Chris Bumstead, a 4X Mr. Olympia Champion bodybuilder, shared that despite all his success in the sport, he was ready to give up bodybuilding if his health started to slide negatively:
“There’s a life after bodybuilding, who I am is not a bodybuilder, there’s more to me than that and I’ll be happy without it”
For Chris, bodybuilding is something that has defined him for years.
It’s a source of meaning and status. He is an entrepreneur operating several businesses in the fitness industry and a fitness influencer.
Bodybuilding is a key part of who he is…
But he wisely recognizes that it’s just one of the many identities that comprise him.
Chris Bumstead interviewed by Chris Williamson on Modern Wisdom
Another great example of someone conscious of their multiple identities is Beyonce. Fans will recognize the name Sasha Fierce as Beyonce’s performer alter ego.
Describing her alter-ego, Beyoncé said: “Sasha Fierce is the fun, more sensual, more aggressive, more outspoken side and more glamorous side that comes out when I’m working and when I’m on the stage.”
However, just as Chris was ready to let go of his bodybuilder identity, Beyonce also came to a point when she had to say goodbye to Sasha Fierce…
In a 2010 interview with Allure Magazine, Beyonce stated that she had “killed” Sasha Fierce. She explained that after all her success she did not need her to feel confident anymore.
That identity was no longer useful, so she let it go.
Identity Death vs Borrowed Identities
In his semi-autobiographical book In Love with the World, Buddhist monk & decorated meditation teacher, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, explores the idea of an “identity death”.
This occurs when you recognize that one of your identities is no longer serving you and you kill it in order to make space for a new identity to be born that better serves your purpose or goals.
At the risk of disagreeing with Beyonce & Rinpoche 😬 I personally think killing an identity is a bit harsh…
Instead, I prefer to think about identities as being “borrowed”.
In the same way that you can go to a library and rent a book, read it, and then return it, you can also borrow an identity, use it until it’s useful, and then return it.
You can borrow the identity of a mother until your kids grow up and move away
You can borrow the identity of a great employee until you decide to start your own business
You can borrow the identity of a backpacker until you come home
The big difference is that borrowing an identity vs killing it, leaves the opportunity to borrow that identity again if needed.
Are your identities holding you back?
I originally thought about this problem when looking at my own identities and the next steps of my life and career.
Since 2017 I’ve identified as a digital nomad and much like Chris & bodybuilding, I’ve also built a personal brand and career around this identity:
I started this newsletter which certainly discusses parts of the nomadic lifestyle
I’m the host of a podcast about remote work & digital nomadism
And many of my friends are digital nomads
But recently my wife Sarah and I started feeling a pull to return home.
Even though this was something I wanted to do, I experienced some hesitation…
“I can’t settle down, I’m a digital nomad, it’s right there in my Instagram bio, how can I be a digital nomad if I stop traveling?”
But being a digital nomad is not ME, it’s just one of my many identities the same way that Vision is not just The Mind Stone, Chris Bumstead is not just a bodybuilder, and Beyonce is not just Sasha Fierce.
These are borrowed identities that help us reach a goal, and once they’ve served their purpose they can be released…
And perhaps down the road, they can be borrowed again.
I’m not quitting being a digital nomad, I’m simply releasing that identity until I decide to borrow it again when it will be useful.
In the post, he theorizes that the reason why so many discussions around religion and politics get heated (as opposed to discussions around something like baking) is that people attach their identities to these topics.
His proposed solution is to keep your identities small, don’t place too much importance on them because we often turn a blind eye to the negatives of what we identify with.
So my question to you is, do you have any identities that are not serving you anymore?
If you were to release that identity and create space, what identity would you assume to help you with your current goals?