Jeremy Côté

Identity's Radius

There are experiences, commitments, environments, people, and roles which will grow your identity. There are also those that will shrink it. You won’t know which you will get in advance, but here are a few points to consider:

First, the larger your identity’s radius, the more resilient you will be in the face of setbacks. For example, if I’m struggling in my work, I can turn to my sports coaching as a way to relieve stress. But if I’m only ever working, then a setback looms large in my life. A larger radius protects against this. That being said, you can have too large of a radius, where you stretch every minute of your life to a pursuit, which gives you little room for margin. The result isn’t resilience, but brittleness.

Second, growing your identity’s radius through volunteering has done wonders in my life. It embeds me within my local community and gives me a sense of satisfaction independent from my professional work. As a coach for teenagers, I can assure you none of my players care if I’m struggling in my work. I need to be there for them, and that’s it!

Third, your identity’s radius is dynamic. You can always change it, and it will sometimes change on its own depending on the seasons of your life. A stressor can warp a small radius and make you only focus on it. A new opportunity can expand the space of possibilities for your identity. The challenge is keeping your radius large enough to not collapse under stressors but small enough such that you still have margin. In my experience, neither parts of the inequality are easy to achieve.

It’s natural that my identity’s radius will need shrink if I need to focus in a particular period of my life. But I try to remind myself that this is intentional and it has an end. Without an end date, I’m setting myself up for a miserable time.

When I get the balance right though, it feels like living on easy mode and makes me grateful for the opportunities I get in life.