Defining and Building Identity Capital For Taking The Best Steps In Your Life

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to do far better at getting their dream job or embarking on an exciting career while others flounder? In fact, you may feel that you, yourself, are struggling, and you wonder what the secret is.

The answer may be in a simple phrase: identity capital. Dr. Meg Jay, the author of “The Defining Decade,” summarized identity capital as “the currency we use to metaphorically purchase jobs or relationships.” In simpler terms, it means investing in the types of experiences and education that will help you take the next step in your life.

What can you do to build identity capital? It’s all about investing in yourself and in the goals you have for your life. Here are some ideas to help you move into new levels of success.

Determine your goals

One thing that separates those who are successful from those who aren’t is that they take the time to define what “successful” means for them. Keep in mind, success doesn’t have to fit the world’s model or the expectations of your family, friends, or coworkers.

One person’s definition of success is a corner office in the executive suite of a Fortune 500 company, while for another person, that result would be a nightmare. The first step is, therefore, to throw off the boundaries and decide what a successful life looks like to you. Then work hard to achieve those goals.

Do you want to work with animals? If so, do you want that as a profession or as a hobby? Knowing where you want to end up is the first step to creating a map and choosing the identity capital you want to develop. If you don’t know what you want to do, don’t worry about it. Instead, focus on who you want to become. Many times, simply moving toward your passions will be a huge step forward in investing in the right identity capital.

Commit to the work of growth

If you find that you often start towards your goals only to sabotage yourself or face constant setbacks, you might want to take a step back and examine why. What many people find is that they aren’t entirely comfortable with making significant changes in their lives.

Part of change management involves realizing that even a positive step forward means letting go of something else. That letting go can be the most challenging part of reaching your dreams. It’s easy to subconsciously try to hold on and end up undercutting your progress.

Take some time to write down what you’ll have to give up to reach your goals, achieve personal growth, and become the person of your dreams. Be honest. All change involves loss, and if you don’t commit to that up front, you’ll find your investments in education and experiences falling short.

Finally, be ready for a long journey. Our society caters to instant gratification with everything being delivered faster and faster. However, developing your identity capital is not an immediate process. It’s a marathon not a sprint, but it’s so worth it! 

Use fear as a tool to help you move forward

A lot of change also brings up fear. Fear can hold you back, or you can transform it into a tool that helps you grow. Whenever fear appears, try to learn from what it’s telling you. Where have you been hurt that you can focus on healing? What major changes have opened up new opportunities for you?

If you find that you’ve lost your job or have been laid off, you might plan some growth opportunities to fill the gap. You might want to travel, for instance, which is a great way to face your fears and expand your comfort zone. If you do, be sure that you know how to travel safely on the road, especially if you’re headed somewhere entirely new.

If you can’t go very far, try to at least get outside into nature. Sometimes being in a quiet, natural environment is just what we need to face our fears and grow. You might find that the swaying trees and gentle breeze gives you a lot of clarity about the kind of identity capital you want to invest in.

Decide how to build your identity capital

Your identity capital is the collection of education and experiences that make you well-suited for your next opportunity, career, or growth step in life. What are some ideas for building your identity capital? You might be surprised that they aren’t all expensive or time-consuming. Sometimes the smallest steps make the most significant difference. 

Here are some ideas to consider:

Create boundaries and eliminate toxic relationships

Sometimes what’s holding us back isn’t us at all. It’s what we allow others to do around us. Setting boundaries is a significant challenge if you’ve never had them before, and it’s likely to upset some of the people who were taking advantage of you. However, when you respect yourself and demand that others do the same, you’ll get rid of toxic relationships and feel much more confident.

Create a stop doing list

You’re probably familiar with the idea of a “to do” list, but what about a “stop doing” list? Create a list of the things you don’t truly enjoy, the things that seem to suck the life out of you. From there, find ways to stop doing them! This may mean standing up for yourself (see creating boundaries above) or it may mean simply admitting that something you used to like no longer serves you.

Write a letter from your future self

Think about what you hope to be in the future, and from that perspective, write a letter to your current self. It will help you think about your life from the standpoint of success and growth, and it will provide a lot of encouragement as well. Think about what kind of advice your future self will give you and then take it! 

Practice a new skill for six months

Choose a skill that you think will be helpful to who you want to become and commit to practicing it for six months. A focused period of learning and practice will give you a lot of experience and help you see if the skill is something you enjoy. After the initial six months, consider adding another skill to work on. 

Review your career and goals

Where are you in your work? Are you happy with it? If not, you might want to chart a new career plan and start taking steps in that direction. You may need to review your resume, find out what the requirements are in a new field, or even go back to school. Keep in mind that education doesn’t have to be a four-year university degree. Sometimes you can get a certificate that will give you the focused knowledge you need while saving you a significant amount of money.

Find a new you, no matter the time of year

“New Year, New Me” is a common mantra around January 1, but there’s no reason to wait. Instead, take the time to review your current identity capital, and how it serves your future goals. From there, make plans to enjoy new educational opportunities and experiences to help you move forward.

Future you will be so proud! 

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