So often when we meet someone new we tell them what we do for a living. It’s usually the first question asked after all. Personally, I bite my tongue and try to never ask “what do you do?” Instead I try to open with a question such as, “What do you like to do when you aren’t working?” Even then I find people will always quickly steer the conversation around to what they do for work and then ask what I do. I get a bit disheartened because I can’t define who I am by a job title. That's not who I am. I don’t just do one thing. Likewise, I’m sure that applies to the other person, but so often decisions whether to engage more deeply in conversation with someone rest with those first few words. And so, I find myself remaining quiet while others exchange job titles and credentials. I listen rather than talk and turn my attention to watching the interactions between people as they try to find their place in the pecking order of the room. It’s usually not too long at all until ego dominates the conversation and at that point I take my leave for I have no desire to engage with anyone’s ego never mind my own.
Have you ever tried to summarise who you are without using a job title, or the fact that you may be a mother or a father? It really is quite difficult to describe who you are when people just want a position title. So, who do you think you are? There are further complications in answering that question because there are three elements of you fighting to be heard. There is the person you think you are, the person you think others think you are; and finally, there is the person you want to be.
Usually we describe ourselves as the person we think that others think we are, or if we are meeting someone new, we may add elements of the person we want to be. This is the safest place to be for most people. In this stage of consciousness everyone is regarded as separate to each other and there is a need to fit in and be accepted. Exaggerations come into play, slight bends of the truth or bold outright lies can be told. The unspoken rules of acceptance and validation are quickly defined in any interaction by someone asking what we do, where we work and what our relationship status is. Rule breakers are generally dealt a dose of fake sympathy, a way of politely saying they have not followed societal rules. As they threaten the cohesion of the group of they may even be excluded and relationships ended before they have begun.
Marcia Baxter Magolda describes this phase of consciousness as being Phase 1 of 4, of the path to self-authorship. This phase is where we follow formulas set by others, meet the expectations of others, and seek their approval. I lived a very long part of my life in Phase 1! Eventually we will benefit immeasurably if we can move from Phase 1 – Following Formulas, through Phase 2 - Crossroads, Phase 3 – Becoming the Author of One’s Life to Phase 4 - Internal Foundations. Phase 4 is where our internal beliefs are strong and comprehensive, and we find peace. Self-authorship is, "the internal capacity to define one's beliefs, identity & social relations" Magolda (2001)
As we move through the four phases, not by study, but by experience, action and reflection, we move from external identification, that is seeking our identity, values and belief system from others, to internal identification. Internal identification is where we have developed our own beliefs and values that work for us, we trust our inner guidance and we know who we truly are without a job title in sight. I encourage you to read more of Magolda because you may just get to know exactly who you are as a result.