Identity Capital

October 21, 2021

It was the last week of August when I sat in my Tommy Bahama multi-color beach chair half watching seven-year-olds skimboard impressively well, and half skimming through a book one of my friends had told me to read. It seemed like your quintessential twenty-somethings self-help book. You know, the one that tells you that the world is your oyster and you’re the youngest you’ll ever be sort of thing. Not that I don’t love that encouragement just as much as the next 90’s baby, but I figured the book was nothing I hadn’t heard before.

After housing half a can of Pringles, I began to give the thing a chance, and to my surprise, I was confronted with my pure ignorance within the first twenty pages. The book, titled “The Defining Decade” by Meg Jay provided a perspective that I hadn’t considered before. Hearing her advice sort of made me feel like a kid at summer camp who throws their blanket over their head, grabs a flashlight, and remains captivated in the storyline into the early hours of the morning. While Jay brings up a multitude of impressive topics, one that stuck out to me was the idea of creating identity capital.

“Forget about having an identity crisis and get some identity capital. … Do something that adds value to who you are. Do something that’s an investment in who you might want to be next.”

While the most change is happening in your life, it is not uncommon to lose sight of who you are a bit. Who you are without school, who you are without a sport you played since you were seven, or without someone you once loved. When a constant in our lives, person, place, or thing leaves, changes, or becomes somewhat uncertain, the natural human reaction is to experience some degree of an identity crisis. In some instances, this will last a while, and other times it’ll be a pause with your reflection after brushing your teeth to look up at yourself and think “What the fuck is good?” Either way, long-term or short-lived, they can be hard to manage.

The point Jay brings up is to use our identity capital, and focus on that instead. Identity capital is classified as what we do to invest in ourselves. Your own ‘personalized collection of assets’ that lead you to a brighter future. Now, these things are not your typical assets, they are education, experiences, relationships, habits, hobbies, and mentalities that we make a conscious effort to maintain. We all want to be happy, want to be successful, and we all have a different definition of what that means and how to get there. What you want to do and who you want to become can be pretty daunting questions, but they can also be pretty exciting ones if you take the time to do a bit of soul-searching.

I advise you to start small, I’m talking back of a coffee napkin and anything that has ink sort of situation. One side will read “start” the other will read “stop”. Each column should be filled with things you should either start/stop doing. For example, one my list would read:

Start: Flossing more.

Stop: Sleeping in an extra hour instead of working out.

These two things are small of course but maybe your list reads off heavier things like…

Start: Thinking of other people more.

Stop: Spending money recklessly.

The idea is that you begin to identify the things in your life that no longer serve you, or things you wish to change, do more of, etc.

I truly believe the most successful people are those committed to lifelong growth. Not only do life-long learners keep their minds sharper for longer, but they are also more likely to accumulate higher degrees of self-investment simply by being aware of their goals and working towards bettering themselves. Their individual resources accumulated over time stack far and wide, as they have met people from all walks of life, challenged themselves in uncomfortable ways and learned how to keep going throughout all of it.

Every person reading this has their own sort of identity capital, their own story. Jay describes this as “ the things we do well enough, or long enough, that they become a part of who we are.” The way you look at the world due to things you invest your time in is a rather profound concept. It makes me question, I am investing my time wisely? And since time is one of those assets that you can’t ever buy but you can always lose, it can be an overwhelming thought to ponder…. but that’s the point. You, as a naturally curious human- being are supposed to question, grow, and build your own identity capital in a way that makes the most sense for you.

Maybe you want to invest your time in degrees, or into cooking, or into being a better friend, a more conscious listener, who knows. But as who you are, the things you like, the things you hate all change, so will the assets you work towards to build your identity capital.

Learning to leverage your strengths and work through your weaknesses, all while remaining ever-so proud of the eternal works in progress we all are, you’ll begin to find the courage to appreciate your story, your identity a bit more. And while it is great to have stocks, bonds, real estate, CDs, you name it, there will never be a more important investment in the one that you continue to make in yourself.

Think about who you may want to be next, but show gratitude to the version of you that’s going to help you get there.

With Love from Your Fellow Work-In-Progress,