Tomorrow i will publish the latest Identity Story over on the Identity Project site: this will be the seventh story published, and i have conducted a further nine interviews, which i am writing up. So far i’ve spent around 55 hours on this work, which is a little more than i had anticipated, largely because people have so much to say!
The premise is somewhat artificial: asking people to share the three identities most central to who they are. These are then written up as anonymised first person stories. I try to capture the language and style of the interviews, whilst changing enough detail to ensure anonymity.
I have been taken aback by how open people are, and the power of the stories shared. Unsurprisingly, when talking about identity and the forces that shape it, many stories are ones of love, hate, abuse, neglect, addiction, education, inspiration, or fear. I have been very mindful of my responsibility to hold these stories safely, as the thought that people put into them is immediately visible.
Hearing someone tell you about the time their father let a child break their leg to teach them a lesson, the way that a teenager was groomed into a life of heroin addiction, or the way someone found athletic excellence as the only part of their life they could control to escape domestic abuse is hard. But equally a privilege: the way these very same people talk about how their experiences have let them to greater empathy, to a desire to help others, to be driven to do more.
Yesterday i interviewed a person who escaped heroin addiction and now uses her life experience in her identity as ‘Advocate’, working with homeless people, sex workers and refugees, finding the most difficult clients, and finding connection.
Of course, the dramatic stories are hard, but all these stories are powerful: the footballer who finds purpose in helping others, and yet does so in the face of everyday sexism. The engineer who is re-authoring herself as a coach. And another engineer who escaped religious and political tensions to find his voice, quite literally, in opera singing.
In this first phase of the work, i have fifty people signed up, and i expect to get around 35 stories out of this. I will publish them every Friday through to the end of the year. After that, i will see.
If there is sufficient interest in, and insight from, this work, then i will broaden it out. Or it may just end up as a discrete project and archive.
A couple of things are already clear: men and women talk differently about identity, with women so far more likely to focus on aspects of gender in their stories. And few people hold work as a core identity, although people do describe how their identities relate to, or enable, them to excel in their work.
I have included some general questions in the interviews too, to see if opinions are diverse, or converge around an agreement. So far, divergence is the norm: some people see identity as fragile, others see it as strong, some find it precious, whilst others see it as transient. Some believe they are the ‘same’ in all spaces, whilst others are different online.
All in all, this is fascinating work, and i feel lucky to be hearing these stories. You can find ‘The Identity Project’ here.