In my eBook, I outlined five things that I believe every athlete needs to know to make a successful transition into life after sports. The first thing mentioned – what I deemed most important – was figuring out your new identity after sports.
I need to make some changes.
I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that there was another layer underneath identity that needed to be reconciled first. I just didn’t know what that thing was.
That thing, I’ve discovered, is our dignity.
The Foundational Layers of Dignity and Identity
I’ve written before about the need to go through an identity shift in your life as a former athlete. I still believe that is true, but I discovered a new idea lately that has added another layer to my process on how we must approach moving on from sports. In The Sacred Enneagram, Christopher Heurtz appeals to missiologist theologians Vinay Samuel and Chris Sugden who nuance the differences between identity and dignity. In their work, they claim that the difference between the two is that of substance and value. According to the two theologians, “Identity answers the question ‘Who am I?’, while dignity answers the question, ‘What am I worth?'”
“Very interesting,” I thought as I read this quote. “But what does that have to do with me?”
“If we can start with the grace of resting in our dignity, then the truth of our identity flows forward. ‘While identity must not be confused with dignity, dignity in a Christian view assumes identity.'” (17)
“Tragically, most of us start with our sense of identity, believing that if we build out the mythology of who we think we are, then the more attractive our identity and the more valuable we become. But when we equate our dignity with the sum value of the fortification of stories we tell about our identity, we create a no-win scenario that will always lead to disillusionment and pain. Overidentifying with our success or failure, allowing the fragments of our identity to lay claim to the whole, and falling into the addictive loop of our mental and emotional preoccupations keep us stuck. This is what entrenches the illusions of our ego’s mythologies.
This is how we get ourselves lost.
The challenge is to find our way home.” (p. 17-18)
I’ll try to summarize that the best I can.
- If we seek to establish our identity first without asking “What am I worth?”, then our identity (Who we think we are) will take over and give us a false sense of worth because of what we do.
- But, if we can find the answer to “What am I worth?” separate from any of our achievement or activity, we will then see that “the truth of our identity flows forward”.
- Therefore, dignity must come before identity.
It summarizes to this: You must know what you’re worth before you discover who you are.
Drawing The Layering Processes
This is the incorrect process to go about layering dignity and identity, with probable results:
And this is the correct process of layering dignity and identity:
I’ll admit it, these are the two of the hardest questions we will ever have to answer.
In a world that is constantly looking to tell us what we’re worth and who we are through targeted advertising and marketing campaigns, we rarely spend the time or even have the mental capacity to freely think and answer these two vital questions.
We are doing ourselves a massive disservice if we never spend the time to become self-aware.
I struggled to transition out of my baseball career and into “real life” because I lacked self-awareness in some key areas. One of these areas was in an understanding of my negative behavior patters – what I did when I was at my worse and how to reverse it.
Tracing this back all the way to the beginning of self-awareness, we see that knowing our worth loosens the dam that is holding back our identity.
Once you know what you’re worth, you can then begin to discover who you are and out of that identity, wake up to your true self and design a life that manifests internal and external congruency. In other words, you can move towards becoming the complete embodiment of who God created you to be.
Where do you get your value from?
This is the question, isn’t it? At the core of life, we must answer this question.
The hard thing: it’s an insanely tough question.
I’ve chosen to reconcile it through faith in Jesus Christ. His death on the cross reveals my value.
If God was willing to put his son on the cross for you and me, we must be awfully valuable to Him.
May the truth of our identity flow forward from settling into our dignity.
Where do you get your dignity and identity from?
Let me know in the comments.