I’ve published the first five Identity Stories so far, and completed ten interviews in total. These are extraordinary stories from everyday people. Possibly because so many people are extraordinary if you find the space to listen.
It’s early days with this work, which invites participants to share the three identities that are most central to who they are. But even at this early stage, some things are clear.
People do not tend to share their work as a core identity, although around half explain how their core identities make them good at the work that they do. People tend to say that only a small number of people, if anyone at all, knows all of their identities. And identities are often born in a single moment.
When describing their identity, people frequently tell stories: stories of people who influenced the, or simple events that transformed them:
“…my older sister was a few years older, and we sat on blanket in front of the shopping centre selling old toys.
We were crazy existed about making some money! So two guys walked past in tank tops, probably thirty years old, just totally cool, with tattoos, quite drunk, and they walked past me like gods.
It was just an epiphany of independence. Heavily tattooed, it opened my heart seeing these two free spirits walk past.”
Often these are the smallest of things, but which leave the lasting legacy. One interviewee, in a story as yet unpublished, spoke of how a random comment about her body led to a twenty year aspect of identity that remained hidden.
Some of these events are deeply traumatic, people have shared the experience of a father and brother committing suicide. Some of these stories are harrowing to read.
At other times, the features described seem almost trivial from the outside: without the context of ‘self’ it is hard to ‘feel’ what that person felt.
Some people describe how they carry their three identities aligned, how they are an ‘open book’, whilst for others the identities are kept separate, or even hidden:
“[There is a] tension between my inner identity as a magician and my other identity as a leader. I think my magical friends may feel some tension between my organisational and spiritual life, so i keep these identities very separate.”
“If that wall was publicly torn down i would have a really hard time explaining to people on both sides of the fence. On both sides of my identity, lots of people have stereotypes. With both sides you are left with the unthankful task of dismantling those stereotypes.”
Identity is often described in terms of boundaries or fences, separation of ‘space’, and i can feel people finding the language or paradigm to separate them.
“I suppose people would say ‘you must be institutionalised’, and i suspect i have some characteristics – but i do see myself as a person in society who happens to be in the military – because it works for me – the ethics and what people do – but i don’t see myself as primarily a military person. Rather i am a person in the military.”
My aim is to continue to share these Identity Stories, probably around 35 of them, through the rest of 2022, and then to take stock. If people are finding value in them, and if i can draw some kind of thread around them, then i will continue beyond then. But equally these interviews may just form a snapshot: i already find i can share these stories into broader work, and it gives insight into questions i have been exploring for some time: ‘what does it mean to belong’, and ‘which self do you bring to the system’. I hope you enjoy reading them as much i have have enjoyed, and felt privileged, to hear them.