What is your identity? Is it what you have, what people think of you, or what you do? Interesting to hear what a Silicon Valley high tech engineer has to say on the matter. ◊
It’s an interesting question: What is your identity? That is, who are you really? The common dictionary definition for identity is who you are, the way you think about yourself, the way you are viewed by the world and the characteristics that define you.
I heard a talk this week by a Silicon Valley engineer* working for a prominent high tech company. He shared his thoughtful perspective on this matter of identity at this quarter’s Connect Silicon Valley ENGAGE event in Palo Alto, California.
Identity in What I Have
Of course we all put a lot of value on what we and others own and possess, be it personal talents, education, pedigree, money, houses, family, title, etc. This high tech engineer was born in Nigeria into a family that celebrated and rewarded academic excellence and performance. He learned from an early age to leverage his intelligence and scholarly accomplishments to elevate his identity and worth in the eyes of his family and community. He received scholarships to leave his home and earn undergraduate and two graduate degrees in the US.
Although raised in a Christian home, the underlying real driver in his life was achieving the common desires of the world: security, wealth, and status. It was refreshing to hear such an honest confession.
Identity in What Others Think of Me
He cited another key element of of identity seeking: the approval of others. Beyond his family and friends, this engineer admitted to seeking the applause and approval of the world around him. Success at US educational institutions fed the natural longing we all have for praise and lauding as he moved into the technology marketplace.
His Christian faith quietly acquiesced to the natural pull and desire in this world to be loved and accepted and recognized as good and worthy. Thankfully, there was no prideful attempt here by him to try to hide or deny this human longing.
Identity in What I Do
Finally, it’s difficult for anyone to avoid finding their value and identity in what they do: their work, their title, their employer, their stature in the marketplace. It’s a yearning search for significance in this world. In the world’s eyes, getting jobs at companies like Motorola and Apple and Google allowed this Silicon Valley engineer to prosper in personal status and standing in the technology community.
In spite of his marketplace stature, as a Christian he noted that he does well to stay humble and consciously avoid the conversation intimidation trap of “I work for Google. What do you do?”
While laying out a good breakdown of the components of modern human identity, this tech engineer/program manager also presented the reality of his identity trek and development. He admitted that the quest for worldly identity can ultimately leave one wanting and recognizing the emptiness of one’s own pursuits. Not to say that achieving worldly things and niceties, recognition and approval of others, and being employed in highly valued and respected workplaces are inappropriate and worthless goals. Rather to say that in the absence of more meaning and substance in life, the worldly achievements can and will fade away. One should only hope to be prepared for the inevitable loss of luster, shine, and worth in all earthly things that diminish or die and turn to rust and dust.
As they say, you can’t take it with you.
What this Silicon Valley tech engineer recognized early, even while obtaining advanced educational degrees and being congratulated after his valedictorian graduation speech, was that all that is seen is not as it may appear. While his classmate peers had secured jobs upon graduation, he actually had no job offers. With all of his applauded credentials, he struggled for 5 months to find a job. One of the jobs he eventual obtained made him feel unwise and ignorant, causing him to question his own intelligence which he and others had so valued.
The reality of his identity was actually starting to reveal cracks and insecure underpinnings. In fact, he cited several hard and painful brushes with reality that began to undo excellence as his identity. He shared the assessment and reconstruction of his own real identity in the eyes of God rather than in the eyes of the world.
Identity Truth Be Told
Like many people we know, Tolu Odulesi is a talented worker, a Silicon Valley tech engineer with high skills and aspirations of excellence seeking fulfillment, purpose, and identity. Nothing wrong with that.
He is also a Christian, a Christ-follower, a surrendered man of faith and prayer.
He counts it a blessing now that he early on started to see the weakness in the world’s value system. He could not simply rely on his own power, but something outside of himself. He has since moved along the trajectory of his blossoming career with the understanding that his real identity is simply as “a beloved child of the Most High God.” The Love of God, shown through the sacrifice of Christ in our stead, is the answer to the fear beneath our anxieties, the fear that drives the wrong ways we define ourselves.
Tolu says that God led him to a community of believers in and outside his workplace. In observing their lives, their intimacy with God, their reliance on Scriptures, the humility with which they handled success and failures, he began to see that there was more to life than the ways in which he had been defining himself. It reshaped his perspective and filled his life with tangible peace even in the midst of hectic demands and pressures, noting that “there are no permanent foundations on this side of eternity, only tents.”
Tolu concludes now that he is not undone by the highs and lows of life in the volatile marketplace. His purpose in life is about becoming more Christlike. Any success is seen as the mercy of God, any failure as well, in a life intended for excellence but directed by the Living God.
Are you secure in your own real identity?
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.” – 1 John 3:1-3
* Tolu Odulesi is a Senior Program Manager at Google. He spoke at the Connect Silicon Valley ENGAGE event on September 11, 2019 in Palo Alto, CA. (https://connect.sv/engage/)