Identity and Labels: Who am I?

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Who am I?

When is the last time you really sat down and thought about this?

Who am I?

When I ponder this question, I jump back to the labels people have assigned to me from childhood:

Girl. Short. Chubby, Smart. Younger sister. Outgoing. Friendly. Caring. Sensitive (sometimes read as a negative: emotional).

Am I those things?  Do I believe in those labels and messages given to me when I was young?

Some yes, some no.

Who else am I?

Today, when I make a list, these words surface, in no particular order:

Woman, spiritual, wife, educator, traveler, health seeker, mother in waiting (through adoption), trainer, Greek, American, Latvian, English, Irish/Scottish, human, New Yorker, friend, sister, aunt, daughter, accidental southerner, liberal/progressive, creative, pioneer, vocal, independent, artist, writer, explorer, seeker of truth, survivor, entrepreneur, global citizen, community member …

The next question I ponder is: How does my identity impact my work across cultures?


When I consider this question, I ask myself how others see me.  Do they agree with the list I have provided?  Or do they see something else?  For example, is my identity as a New Yorker seen as “aggressive” or “impatient” in the south? (Yes, at times, it is.)   Does my gender mean that someone reconsiders my capabilities? (Yes, at times, it does.)

Through a cultural lens, I have a heightened awareness of being “seen” and how it can impact communication, even across the cultures of the northeastern and southeastern US (as well as across national borders).

It begs the question “How does the person I’m communicating with see him/herself?” If s/he were to make such a list, what would it look like?  Would it mirror national or regional expectations or even stereotypes?  How does this impact the communication or dialogue we are to have?

Our “work” is still done by human hands.  We are typically trained in the skills to “do” the work, but I see a need to connect to the humanity of those interacting in the workplace – the provider of the service and the recipient of it too. How does their humanity change the interaction and potential relationship that can evolve?  At what point do we explore more than the service need to better understand the human need and what drives the person’s behavior?

During the Swarm on Culture, Identity and Perspective, we conducted some exercises around identity. When reflecting on these, I am reminded of how infrequently we deeply explore where we come from and how we see ourselves.  We get so caught up in our work, busy lives, technology, etc that we often miss the opportunity to reflect on the person that we are today, our deep roots, our self beliefs (good and bad), and how we are always changing and evolving.

Here are some photos from an exercise we facilitated at the Swarm.  (They are anonymous – no names are listed.) When considering these, imagine what yours might look like if you really sat down and took the time to ask yourself “who am I?”  Also consider what your students/clients, co-workers and others you interact with across cultures might have drawn too.  How might this change the way you see yourself and see them – and how might it allow you to connect on a more human level in your work?

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2014_MelibeeSwarm (277) (Small)

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black southener...

I’d encourage you to take a few moments in silence today to ask yourself “Who am I?”  You might be surprised what surfaces for you – and not only how it impacts your next day at work, but also how you communicate with the people in your family, community and world.