Identifying Your Identity

Our personal identities are ours and we should not let our employers consume or suffocate them. Nurture them and let them grow.

baby oak tree
From little acorns do mighty oaks grow — Photo by Author (Paul Green)

Is it healthy to give up so much of ourselves in this way?

Corporate Faith

I’ve often struggled with the notion of being part of a corporate family. It always felt rather superficial and nebulous. I have been keen to trust others, to build relationships with individuals, but I’ve never managed to muster the faith required to believe in the corporation itself.

When I’ve worked for smaller companies, it’s been a different experience. You tend to know everyone and it feels like you are on a journey together. The effort you put in can be seen by all and is directly appreciated. It feels like you are doing it for the people around you, not just for your boss or the company.

In a corporation, it is a different experience. There is an element of being on the same team, working towards a common goal.

There are the corporate videos, the business updates, the all hands and so forth. These are all designed to give everyone a sense of belonging in the bigger corporate picture. It is to illustrate how everyone is in it together.

These are all good things, but it can just feel a bit staged. A bit fake.

Remain Cynical

I get why these ceremonies exist. Most people gain comfort from being part of a crowd — or herd — and human survival has shaped this instinct in us. However, we should be careful not to let this manipulate us into losing our personal identity.

Our personal identity carries between our roles and jobs. It is also what we share with our family and friends. Without getting too deep, it is what makes us, us. It shouldn’t be neglected or bullied into submission; it should be nurtured and allowed to thrive.

While remaining cynical may limit how much energy we are willing to give to our employer, the remainder is retained by us. This energy can be used to improve our prospects in alternative ways or simply be shared with our family and friends.

Goals and Boundaries

How do we retain our independence, when embedded in a corporate culture? My favoured approach is to set my own targets, then assess my own progress towards them.

I erect mental boundaries and define goals which feel like success to me.

The goals are my internal terms, not something imposed on me by others. If I meet these goals, I get an enormous sense of achievement, without needing the reassurance of others.

With the goals in place, the boundaries are there to defend them. It helps when navigating meetings with managers, it helps to give perspective on personal feedback reports, it helps to externalise the elements which are toxic.

This doesn’t mean that constructive feedback is ignored; praise is always nice, as are useful recommendations. It just means it isn’t necessary for feeling successful. It means your career success isn’t beholden to the corporation’s opinion of you.

Consider these your weapons and armour when going into battle. You need resilience as an individual, as does the collective. If you are strong, you will benefit as well as your team.

Making Time

Today, there are now so many ways we can shine outside of our jobs. We have easy access to broadcast our message far and wide. Presenting our personal identity is easier than ever.

A couple of decades ago, to build a network it would be a tedious and time consuming affair. I remember printing hundreds of letters and sending them to potential clients. The paper, the printing, the stamps, the envelopes… now you can just reach out using an email, IM, etc.

Reputation still carries weight between jobs and a good network will always pay back dividends. However, access to building this network and reputation is vastly improved over decades previous. It can even be done in spare time, using the phone in your pocket!

Throughout my youth and much of my 20s, I spent a disproportionate amount of time playing computer games. This contributed little towards my career, affected my education and probably harmed my personal relationships too. Time was consumed with nothing to show for it. When I started my first business and moved in with my partner, I knew it had to change — the games were gone.

Keeping one eye on the horizon — Photo by Author (Paul Green)

The point is, the time saved on frivolous entertainment was diverted into self-improvement. I can’t say that every step thereafter was in the right direction, but it made me realise that I had given entertainment too much emphasis.

If I wanted my life to progress in the direction I wanted, I needed to invest more time in myself.

Doing It Again

If I was to relive that period in the modern era, I would probably try to create something more concrete out of it. Much of what I wrote is lost in the annals of time, buried in obscure forum debates, with anonymous individuals.

Perhaps I lacked the knowledge or the confidence to share my journey at the time. Now I realise that owning and sharing that journey is not only interesting to others, but it also shows your character. It shows others you are willing to learn, willing to engage and move forward. It shows you will meet challenges head on, define your own goals, then deliver on them.

That is a powerful message.

Founder and consultant at Codiate, with over 20 years of experience as a developer.

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