Who Am I? On a Sense of Identity and Wearing Many Hats

For the past decade, much of my sense of identity has been defined by the work that I do. I am a freelance writer. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. Maybe because I found myself defending my choice of career so many times, it has become such a great focus in my life. Of course, there is more to who I am than just my job. This got me wondering how other people derive their sense of identity. If a stranger approached you and asked you to tell them about yourself, what would you say?

Ranking the Roles You Play

I posed this question to a group of dad bloggers on Facebook, asking if they had to rank the level of importance for the different roles that they have, what would be their greatest source of who they are? What would be the second greatest? Since many of these dad bloggers mostly run their blogs as a hobby or as a gig on the side, it’s not surprising that the role of “blogger” was lower on their priority list.

The overwhelming majority of responses indicated that it is not the “day job” that provides the greatest sense of self, but rather the role of father. Practically all the men said that family comes first and that’s where they derive their greatest sense of identity. It is where they find their purpose. To be fair, this may not be a representative sample, but it is an eye-opening revelation all the same.

This is not the experience I typically get at casual get-togethers when I am meeting people for the first time. When I introduce myself to other people, I usually lead by saying that I am a freelance writer, followed by the kind of writing that I do. While I may still be a little conflicted about the kind of blogger I am, it’s a natural tangent from my professional role as a writer. I might talk about the topics that I cover or the conversation might turn to the advantages of working from home for myself.

Internal and External Sense of Self

At the same time, I very much identify with my role as a stay-at-home dad. As cliche as it may sound, my world revolves around my daughter. But this part of my life is generally not the first response I give if someone asks me to tell them about myself.

Therein we unearth two key insights.

First, there may be a distinct disconnect between the sense of identity that you define within yourself and the version of yourself that you project to the world.

You may feel like a father first and a social media strategist second, but you’re more likely to talk to people about your job than you are to lead off with your family. Maybe it’s because the public life of your work feels like safer territory than the hallowed halls of your home. Maybe it’s your work that makes you “different” from other people.

Second, we mustn’t discount the power of context. If you’re at a job interview, the person across from you is likely far more interested in your professional qualifications than how much you enjoy going to the park with your son. Conversely, the fellow parent you meet at daycare is likely more interested in matters related to your children. This also illustrates the difference between asking “What do you do?” and asking “Can you tell me about yourself?”

Even More Hats on My Head

And we can’t forget about all of the other sources of identity. I identify strongly as someone who was born and raised in Vancouver. I identify strongly as a person of Chinese heritage. I identify strongly as an alumnus from the University of British Columbia. I identify strongly as an amateur philosopher and “thinker.” Maybe you identify as a Mets fan, a stamp collector or a cycling enthusiast.

We all wear many hats and we can oftentimes find ourselves wearing more than one hat at a time. Realistically, it’s not just about the hat that you show to the rest of world or just the hat that you keep closest to your heart. It’s the unique combination of hats and how you choose to wear them that defines who you are. There’s so much more to you than just a single fedora or propeller beanie.