Blog/My Life/Teen Life A Formula for Forming Authentic Identity by Brendan J. Hagan Personal Brands and Muddled Identities The pressure is real: to look, be, and act a certain way… It can be exhausting. We create brands so others perceive us the way we want them to. Where is the line between our authentic identity and the personal “brands” we create? On one hand, we curate what other people see of us (on social media, and often in real life too) because we want others to only see our good side and appreciate what we do. On the other hand, we must be true to ourselves and not be consumed worrying about how others perceive us. We have to be true to ourselves and our identity in God because if we aren’t, we will always be left feeling incomplete. The solution to our heart’s longing is in who we are as a child of God, not in how others perceive us or the likes we get on social media. On top of that, nobody likes counterfeit, so why do we get so caught up trying to make others think we are perfect? There is nothing savory about being fake, yet so many of us try to hide our imperfections. God has given us identity and He wants us to be true to it. So, how can we be authentic? Well, we live in a world where our identity can feel very muddled. Answering the question “who are you?” is not easy. It can feel like a wrestling match with our family, friends, God, the culture, and even ourselves. In the Bible, Jacob took his turn struggling with identity. Jacob pretended to be his older brother, Esau because he wanted his father’s blessing for himself. He was envious of what he perceived his brother had instead of appreciating what God had already given him. It seems Jacob had a hard time being comfortable with being Jacob. Are you comfortable with who you are or do you struggle with being you? Have you envied what somebody else has or failed to appreciate what God has given you? It’s okay if you struggle –– Jacob did too, and God found a way to challenge him. God wanted Jacob to know his identity, and it took a wrestling match for Jacob to figure it out. In Genesis 32:24-31, Jacob finds himself wrestling with God over his identity. After wrestling through the night, God asks Jacob, “what is your name?” Finally, Jacob is ready to be Jacob. He says, “I am Jacob.” He is no longer pretending to be something else. Wrestling with identity is challenging, even when we find it, we usually get a few scars along the way. Jacob walked away knowing his name, but he also walked away limping. So, what are you wrestling with? Do you have scars? Do you know who you are? Are you okay with being you? These are important questions that I have wrestled with and that I want you to consider. I want you to be authentic because running from who you are and pretending to be something else is exhausting. More importantly, I want you to be you because God made you perfectly, and your identity exists in who you are as His creation. With that in mind, here is what I have learned about cultivating authenticity and I hope it will help you. Think of it as a three-part formula for cultivating authentic identity: authenticity, intentionality, and consistency. (You could say I try to push the envelope for authenticity). Be Authentic Be authentic! The first part is obvious but not easy. Be who you are, dang it. However, there is an addendum to that: be who God created you to be. If “being who you are” means rebelling against God’s plan, then you will always struggle to be content with who you are. Being authentic means actively becoming who God created you to be by living according to the dignity with which He created you. “‘The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator’” (CCC 27). We cannot live fully or authentically unless we realize our identity is grounded in God and we entrust ourselves to Him. Now, this does not mean we have to give up the things we enjoy and be the same, boring, God-loving Christian as everyone else. Accepting our identity in God is the fullest and most exciting journey we can embark on in this life. It does not take away from who we are. Rather, it sets us on fire and equips us to use the gifts God gave us in the way he intended us to use them. That is powerful and that is exciting. If God calls you to be a priest, go be the best priest ever! If He wants you to be a parent, go be the best parent ever. Whatever God calls you to be, go be the best version you can be. Ride that roller coaster of life with all of its hills and valleys. We each have our own unique adventure and God gives us special gifts to succeed along the way. Because God has a unique plan for each of us, we have to discern what is a part of that plan and what is not a part of that plan, which is the second part to being authentic. As you strive to be authentic, consider these questions: Have I realized and embraced my identity in God? Do I have an idea of who God is calling me to be or am I still trying to figure it out? Be Intentional This one is short and simple but very important: have a reason for what you do that is grounded in who God is calling you to be. We need to learn what to say “yes” to and what to say “no” to. Say “yes” to the things that help you be the best version of who God is calling you to be and say “no” to the things that do not. As you strive to be intentional, think about these questions: What things should I be saying “yes” to and what things should I be saying “no” to? Why am I doing _____? Is it making me a better version of who God is calling me to be? Am I trying something new because I am exploring who I am or am I saying ‘yes’ to something I should be saying ‘no’ to? Be Consistent Do not change your values depending on the situation. Act and behave in a way that reflects who God is calling you to be no matter what situation you find yourself in. Do not go with the majority just because it is easier if it is not what you believe. Do not compromise your values just to fit in. Pretending to be someone else is exhausting, and when we each have a God-given plan and identity, there is too much at stake to waste our time altering our identity to be something else or to appease someone else. This also means we have to be careful about how we choose to “brand” ourselves. If we brand ourselves without a clear sense of our identity, then it will be difficult to be consistent. I would encourage you to prayerfully and honestly consider who God is calling you to be and how you are projecting yourself to be. Does the way you brand yourself consistently reflect your authentic identity or is it a filtered imitation? In any case, learn to be authentic no matter the situation. As you strive to be consistent, think about this question: Do I alter my values or behaviors situationally or do I hold my values across situations? Learning to Wrestle Developing your identity and being authentic is like learning to wrestle. It takes a lot of practice and continual exploration. When we get started, it can be difficult. We may take a lot of punches. However, as we learn and grow, we get more confident in who we are and our ability to be authentic. Keep exploring and always get back up! Stay authentic, stay intentional, and be consistent.