RWDevCon Inspiration Talk – Identity by Vicki Wenderlich

Learn why it’s important for your inner and outer identities to match and how you can bring them into alignment and be true to yourself. By Victoria Wenderlich.

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Ray’s Struggle with Identity

Now, most of the time, Ray is ridiculously enthusiastic about his work, but even he went through his own identity crisis.

He’s a programmer you may have heard. That’s how I got started here. Being a programmer is his identity.

As the business grew, though, he found himself having to shift his time more and more towards management in order to keep things running smoothly. It got to the point where he was hardly doing any programming at all.

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The trouble is, to Ray, the word manager was a dirty word. He subscribed to the very popular programmer belief that managers don’t get any work done.

It’s the programmers that do the real work.

He wasn’t very happy when every time he looked in the mirror he expected to see a programmer and instead he saw a manager.

Do Your Inner and Outer Identities Match?

When your inner identity and your outer identities don’t match up, you can feel false. That’s going to make you feel frustrated, irritable, and depressed.

When your inner identity and your outer identities don't match up, you can feel false. That's going to make you feel frustrated, irritable, and depressed.

When your inner identity does match up with your outer identity, you feel happy and confident because you’re acting in a way that’s true to yourself and your goals.

When your inner identity does match up with your outer identity, you feel happy and confident because you're acting in a way that's true to yourself and your goals.

What do you do if you realize that your inner and outer identities have drifted apart? What do you do when your mirror shows two different reflections?

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You have two choices. You can change your inner identity, or you can change your outer identity.

Option 1: Change Your Outer Indentity

Changing your outer identity means changing what you’re doing on the outside to match what’s happening on the inside. This might mean:

  • Quitting your job
  • Moving to a different location
  • Starting up a hobby
  • Joining a club

If you see yourself as a healthy, fit person and you’re not – we’ve all been there – then you can start up an exercise habit.

If you see yourself as a free spirit, but you’ve been feeling trapped working at a bank, save up your money and finally go on that backpacking trip that you’ve been dreaming about.

If you see yourself as a brilliant app developer, but you haven’t gotten around to learning Swift yet, then come to RWDevCon.

Learn the skills that you need in order to become the person you see inside. Change what’s happening on the outside to match what’s happening on the inside.

Jeff’s Story

A great example of this comes from Jeff Wolski of the tutorial team.

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Once upon a time, Jeff taught app development courses at a technical college. He spent his nights and weekends coding.

Did I mention that he also had a wife and two young children? All of these demands on his time took a heavy toll.

At one point, the stress load was so high that he landed in the hospital.

Jeff took this opportunity to reevaluate his life. He realized that he’d always thought of himself as an app developer who used teaching to make money, but in reality, he was a teacher with a coding habit that he didn’t have time for. And a teacher is not what Jeff wanted to be.

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Jeff quit his teaching career of over a decade and became a full time app developer. Of course, that meant he was full time unemployed for a while.

They moved out of their house and back into his mother’s house for a time. It took six months before they could even make rent again.

He worked hard and things improved and now he’s working at a job he loves, making apps.

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It was worth all the stress. His outer identity now matches up with his inner identity as an app developer.

That’s what happens when you’re changing your outer identity to match your inner identity. What about the opposite?

Option 2: Change Your Inner Identity

What if you decide, hey I want to keep my job. I like it. It’s helping me accomplish my goals.

Then you need to change your inner identity.

Changing your inner identity means embracing your outer identity with open arms. It means saying to yourself, “Hey this is who I am – and I like it!”

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Ray’s Solution

In Ray’s case it meant recognizing that managing his team was really important. Somebody needed to do that work.

The alternative to being a manager was shutting the website down completely. Ray didn’t want to do that. He wanted to keep growing the website and growing his company.

He had to change his way of thinking. He had realize that:

  • The manager is the person who keeps things running and organized.
  • That’s really important work.
  • He had to change his inner identity from programmer to manager.
  • He should be proud of being a manager.

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Changing your inner identity is not an instantaneous process. You can’t just flip a switch.

It’s rooted very deeply in your psyche, but it is possible to change your inner identity. It takes three things:

  • Patience
  • Self awareness
  • Words
Note: Words are powerful, so pick out the great things about who you are in reality and write them down. Say them to yourself every day. The way we talk to ourselves is really important.

For Ray, instead of saying to himself, “Another day wasted answering emails,” he learned to say, “I answered a lot of emails today that were really important and all of my team made progress on all of their projects.”

Eventually, your identity will shift to match your words and you’ll feel like your acting true to yourself once more.

Vicki’s Solution

Here’s what those two choices looked like for me:

  • Change my outer identity which meant saying to my husband, “Sorry I am going back to the studio and you are own your own with the business.”
  • Change my inner identity and embrace my new role as an entrepreneur.

I chose the latter because I realized that I liked a lot of what I was doing as an entrepreneur.

I liked creating art that was used and appreciated, like the art that you can see in our books and in our tutorials. Here’s some of the game art I made that I’m particularly proud of.

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I liked learning what it takes to publish books or be a better speaker or run a conference.

It was only this identity as a ceramic artist that I’d been clinging to that was making me really unhappy.