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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

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.

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