Who are you?

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. -- When you meet someone for the first time, they’ll ask what it is you “do” for a living. We ask this question because it’s a relatively innocuous probe into the identity of the other person, and we then use their answer as a heuristic (mental shortcut) to inform us about what kind of person they are. Consider how we have a sort of template for different occupations: picture a “businessman,” a “doctor,” a “firefighter,” a “plumber,” a “retail salesman,” a “policeman,” a “waiter/waitress,” or a “factory worker.” Not only do we make implicit assumptions about others’ personality from their occupation, but we also use this information to assume their social status, financial standing, stage in life, and even sometimes their political/religious affiliations!


Similarly, how you choose to answer “who are you?” reveals a large amount of information about your values, your beliefs, and even your priorities in life. Do you define yourself by your job (i.e. military, ISR, GEOINT) or position (i.e. technical expert, supervisor, NCO, commander, contractor)? Or by your family roles (i.e. father, mother, husband, wife, brother, sister)? How about what you like to do in your free time (i.e. mentor, guitarist, gamer, human rights advocate, rollerblader, supernerd, Crossfitter, basket weaver)? Past achievements (veteran, Amn of the Year, college graduate, Eagle Scout, Nobel Laureate)? Where you’re from (i.e. American, Texan, Croatian, Martian)? Or what you believe in (i.e. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Scientologist, Wiccan)? Or your political leanings (i.e. liberal, Republican, Libertarian, anarchist)? Or life stage (i.e. Baby Boomer, Gen X, Millennial)? Or by your issues (i.e. ADHD, insomniac, epileptic, OCD, wounded warrior, PTSD, alcoholic, perfectionist, grouch, loner)?

We are all a complex combination of roles and identities, ensuring uniqueness while informing how we think about ourselves and others. Some of these descriptors aid people in understanding us; others help us better understand ourselves. However, not all identity claims are positive; in fact, many can be downright damaging. With Veteran’s Day coming up, I encourage you to think about how you define you, and the implications of your chosen monikers for your identity.

- Answer the question in 3 words or less. This is your primary identity, and the one that should ideally motivate your actions. Now think about whether you daily behavior aligns with your chosen descriptors; is there dissonance or congruence? If there is a mismatch between how you describe yourself and where you focus your regular efforts, reconsider your priorities.

- Ask how other people see you. Would your friends, family, and coworkers describe you the same way you see yourself? Or might they perceive your priorities differently than you do? Solicit feedback, and strive to show people the “real you.” How do you want to be viewed?

- Consider how your identity has changed (and will change). You’re not the same person you were 10, 15, 20 years ago…and for good reason! But think about how your current identity might shift in response to future life changes—and what/how you want that to be.