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Don’t confuse your identity with your role

Here’s a fact that you may struggle to believe sometimes: You are valuable. People may not appreciate you as you deserve to be appreciated, but that doesn’t change your intrinsic worth. You may be limping through life, feeling under-encouraged, but the fact is, you have inherent value as a son or…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Here’s a fact that you may struggle to believe sometimes: You are valuable. People may not appreciate you as you deserve to be appreciated, but that doesn’t change your intrinsic worth. You may be limping through life, feeling under-encouraged, but the fact is, you have inherent value as a son or daughter of your creator.

Unfortunately, most people seem to struggle to embrace this fact. So when Jesus came to set the captives free, it wasn’t just from the power of sin, but from all sorts of misperceptions that keep us from seeing ourselves as God sees us. As we hurtle through time, we just want to be OK, to be accepted, to be safe. And God wants to help us get there too.

So, how are you doing? Periodically, it’s a good idea to take stock and assess how you’re doing and if you’re trying to do too much on your own. Do you sometimes feel like you’re battling to get to a safe place? A place where your identity feels secure? If you too frequently find yourself becoming defensive, then it may be time to make a change. While we need help, only a few people should ever have the right to help you understand yourself. Too many of us have negligent or abusive people in our lives, people who have access to the undefended and vulnerable parts of our lives. Maybe they’re careless and don’t know any better, but they can do damage to how we see ourselves.

The question is, who should have the right to help you grow in understanding yourself?  It isn’t easy. All of us struggle to find a balance. One common mistake arises from confusing who you are (your identity) with what you do (your role). Let me offer three principles that may help you.


1. They have to see your heart.
Don’t let anyone help define your identity if they haven’t seen your heart. What’s in your heart? What are your dreams? What do you love?


What gives you passion? Your heart is about those things that naturally energize, excite, motivate and inspire you. To understand a person, you must know their heart. Because these things are precious, most of us hide them from others. If someone doesn’t understand our heart, that most tender part of ourselves, their advice will be colored with too much of their own experience – it will be unreliable. I remember as a teenager when people who didn’t know me advised me about who I should become. Their advice was well-intentioned, but ultimately distressing. Never listen to someone who doesn’t understand your heart.



2. Be careful trusting people who see you as your role.
Don’t trust someone to speak into your identity whose primary responsibility is to supervise your role. After you blow an assignment at work, your boss may leave you feeling like you’re a failure and can’t be trusted. If you’ve defined yourself in terms of your job, this kind of indictment may feel like a kind of death. But you should never expect someone whose job is to make you productive to understand the parts of you that have nothing to do with your productivity. A supervisor is going to speak to your role, but you are not your role – that’s not your identity. Don’t let callous, uncaring people get under your skin.



3. Understanding identity is foundational for advising about role.
Don’t trust someone to advise you about your role who doesn’t understand your identity. Have you ever gotten really poor career advice? To advise someone about what they should do with their lives, you need to understand who they are as a person. Yes, you can advise someone about the practical aspects of a job without really knowing them. You can compare salaries and benefits and working environments. But you can’t speak into issues like a person’s call without understanding the things that move them.

Sorting out identity issues is one of the toughest things you’ll ever do. You weren’t meant to do it on your own, but at the same time, be careful who you trust.

Comments (20)

  • This is too close to my heart today. Am being pushed through the eye of a needle….wiggling desperately all the way. Just so want to get to the other side.

  • I just want to pass on some of the best advice I’ve ever received.

    “Just because you are capable does not mean you are called.”

    The need that arises is not always to be met by you. Even if you are able to perform it well. Rest in what dreams and goals God gives you. Don’t let others pressure you by any means to step outside of His opinion.

  • Thank you so so so much for pouring your life out into us and seeing the kingdom come here to earth! Really and honestly, this has been so amazing so far! and its only day 4! Thank you!

  • Wow I agree with the comment about how great the quote is that says “Just because you are capable does not mean you are called.” That is something I struggle to see and understand the impact of in my own life. You also said something about not allowing an abusive person in those tender places of our life….the timing of that could not have been more perfect as I was just thinking (before reading your blog)of a couple unhealthly relationships in my life that cause more pain then anything because they are abusive (often in ways that cant be seen by everyone bc they are abusive to the heart that they have access to)….gives me something to chew on….even though I think God has already been showing me the answer. 🙂 Thanks Seth.

  • Dear Daddy Seth,
    Greetings!
    I much blessed by this.I lernt new things from your teachings.May God bless You.
    Yours son in Pakistan.
    Emmanuel Sadiq

  • Love this blog. This was perfect for today as the last couple of days I’ve allowed my role to control too much of me. Great reminder of where my true identity is.

  • Stephanie Schuesler

    Brilliant blog! Your straight-forward and thought-provoking approach to this challenging issue is much appreciated (and most timely). It’s perfect for anyone reading it – at any age and at any time. You nailed it. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  • Seth, I have a feeling this blog is coming out from -Project SearchLight – I wish i was there soaking in the wisdom, but alas maybe a different time or method. Thanks!

  • “If someone doesn’t understand our heart, that most tender part of ourselves, their advice will be colored with too much of their own experience – it will be unreliable.”

    Oh my goodness, that hit my issue right on the head! This is one thing that has been one of the biggest problems in my life. My intelligent, ambitious, well-meaning family tries to advise me on how to go about accomplishing my dreams, but they have a very worldly minded approach to life (must have job benefits, 401k, managerial position, etc). Their advice makes plenty of sense, but it never resonates with me, it never settles right with me. It is very important for advisers, family, friends, etc, to understand God’s heart and His culture. This makes a world of difference in understanding yours.

    One of my mistakes has been trying to take my folks’ risk-adverse, career ladder approach to accomplishing my goals. I have been letting it shove aside what I heard God say months ago. I even felt bad about myself because I am not where they say I should be, career-wise, right now. I am always afraid that my choices are poor, and that I’ll screw myself in my future by going for what I want in life.

    The best thing for others in this situation is to be surrounded by Kingdom-driven, like-minded souls who can encourage them. Look for groups, or start one, that share your interests. With prayer, God can bring together the people you should be around. Sometimes, I feel alone in my opinions in my immediate surroundings. I starve to talk with others my age who feel the way I do, and find older people who have been through what I am going through, so I am just going to start a fellowship in my neighborhood.

    Thanks Seth!

  • Thanks for this one, seth. comment #3 is something I am writing in my journal (or tatooing on my forehead, haven’t decided which way will help me remember it best!:)

    Emy, I thought of you while reading this blog, and then saw your comments. You have a vision and a call and its exciting to see you courageously pursue that in spite of your family’s well-meaning, but different, opinion. I pray that God will clearly guide you and give your family understanding, so they can rejoice in seeing you live out your role in the Kingdom!

  • Great words of wisdom Seth. I could be your poster child for this blog.

    The three guiding principles are excellent for discerning to whom “inner access” might be granted. Tucking this away, in appreciation.

  • Blog today was perfect timing for me today . I have been in a state of unrest since leaving Aim and on my knees praying that the Lord would give me a clear vision of what he is calling me to do , his vision not mine !! I am praying that he will guide me to someone who can help me understand what that should all look like .

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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