I was deep in discernment in an overwhelming section of laundry soap in Costco when I noticed just down the aisle a woman was staring at me. I smiled and went back to my assignment of finding the needle in the haystack of a particular detergent. A moment later, the aforementioned individual was standing two feet away from me, and yes, still staring. Quickly reviewing my potential responses I landed on a warm greeting before returning to my very important task. “Good morning!” I said in my cheeriest voice. And then, in a very timid response, “Are you…I mean…are you…Brian Prior?”
Still smiling at her all the while going through my cerebral database of all humans that I know, “Yes, I am.” I stood desperately waiting for my brain to find the file from whence I knew this person. Although it had only been a nano second, she was clearly onto my complete absence of any knowledge of who she was. “Oh, you don’t know me. I heard you speak once, and I really loved what you said. In fact, I still have a quote from you on my desk.” At warped speed I had gone from lost in the solace of my solo shopping, to an awkward introduction, to now feeling incredibly humbled by her comments as I responded, “Nice to meet you. Thank you for your very kind words. And you are?”
It never ceases to surprise me how we “know” someone. In my own journey I have lived in realities where people have shown great deference to me and in others where folks could not be more disrespectful. Along the way I have learned and grown immensely in terms of my own sense of identity. How the world sees us varies and shifts from context to context. I love the stories about Jesus of Nazareth. In his hometown, he gets no respect. On the top of a hill, he has thousands of people waiting to hear his next word. Before the religious and political leaders of the day, he is a threat and as such treated like a criminal.
Yet what I appreciate most is Jesus’ consistency. Regardless of being treated like a rockstar or a thug, Jesus is clear about who he is.
In my work with leaders I find identity is almost always one of the primary challenges. For those transitioning into leadership positions they often experience a significant growth curve to now being at the end of the food chain. All of sudden you have a multitude of people who want to hitch their wagon to you and appear to be big time supporters. For those in the middle rough waters of their leadership, when it feels that you are at the end of the frustration food chain, it can be difficult to navigate everything that is coming at you. And for those transitioning out of their leadership roles, many suddenly feel that the food chain has completely abandoned them and they are no longer even necessary.
When it comes to identity, consistency is key. If one’s core identity fluctuates depending on how you’re being “identified” or even treated, you’re never going to fully live into your true self. The good, and hard work, is to really become clear about who you are and who you are not. It’s not about role or relationship, not about accomplishment or failure, but utmost clarity about your passions, your gifts, your values…the true you that you were created to be.