Essays

What is an identity worth?

Our identity is something we often take to be an inner definition but is encountered by others via our external presentation.

While what we display on the outside — our clothing, our manner of speaking, the things we own, where we live, what we post or don’t post on social media — is not the sum of us, it is what most people get at first. If they are not privileged enough to know us underneath that surface, then it is all they get. And if we are not privileged enough to learn for ourselves what is underneath that same surface, perhaps that then becomes all there is…

For argument’s sake, let us pretend that all of us know that there is more underneath, and what it is, but embrace the idea that very few people get to even a glimpse. Therefore, what they see is all there is to get.

How much is that identity worth? What is the price or cost of it?

  • $800,000 for a tenth of an acre, a shared fence, and an address in the big city limits
  • $1,000,000 for an apartment that abuts a park or lake with laundry in-building and bike storage
  • $20,000 for a Breitling watch that tells the time
  • $45,000 for a new BMW 3 Series that has 5 wheels and drives
  • $125 for a black cotton t-shirt from Prada
  • $500 for dinner for two at a 3-Michelin star restaurant and ‘priceless’ photos

No one is immune to status consumption. No one is immune to external identity-formation and protection. None of the above is either good or bad; in fact, you could take all those same things and cut the price points by half or even to a quarter, and it would tell the same story. Depending on the context, it would provide the same status or the lack thereof.

Why? Because you cannot separate identity from context. It is not enough, for any of us, to just say who we want to be. Who we want to be is always defined in opposition or in harmony to some sort of context or space that we inhabit.

In the example above, if that is the representation that you choose, in certain social and economic circles, congratulations, that is normal. You get applauded for it. In others, unfortunately, it is completely abnormal, and you get derided and pariah’ed for it.

So, what is right? Nothing. There is no right or wrong when it comes to external representations; they simply are what they are. There are no universal truths to be had and there is no final judge. That said, you ought to recognize the context in which you exist and understand that you get judged against what passes for normal in that context.

Why this matters?
We started this with two questions: 1) What is it worth? 2) What is that price or the cost?

Remember, I had told you ignore what was inside. That was a trick: you can never ignore who you are inside. Your true identity — what your values are, what you desire and what you need, your goals and your purpose, what gives you joy, hope, and happiness — that is the real thing and the only thing that matters.

The context always feels more important because it comes with the loud voice of external approval or disapproval, but it doesn’t matter. Why? Because you can more easily change context, but you cannot hide from who you are — it always travels with you. With that said:

If your internal identity is not aligned with your external identity, your life is coming at great cost to you.

It does not matter if you spend $200 a month to clothe, bathe, house, and feed yourself in the most severe of conditions, or if you spend $20,000 a month to do exactly the same in the most luxurious of conditions — if that is not who you are, and that is not what you want, it will strip every single penny out of your soul.

It does not matter if you watch all of the best shows, hang out in the cool places, adopt non-conformist conformity, and read the best books, or if you watch ‘crap’ television, only go to the neighborhood pub, are a total conformist to pop culture, and read nothing — if those things are for others and not for you, you will have starved your essence for the pittance of a pound.

Your identity is yours and selling it out for labile and ultimately meaningless external approval is an incredibly stupid way to waste something so priceless.

What is your identity, what is your life worth? One word: everything.

Originally posted on Medium, 7 December 2016.

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