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That Other Form of Identity Theft

One morning after dropping my daughter to school, I heard a commercial about identity theft - a terrible and pervasive problem that can upend lives with the swipe of a social security number and a string of fraudulent charges or worse.

I listened, took a second, and then started maniacally chuckling to myself. Not because identity theft is funny- it was because I realized ‘identity theft’ was the perfect name for my current situation.

Five straight years of dramatic life changes had left me feeling, in some ways, like my identity had been stolen. Like another form of identity theft - but instead of some hacker or con artist, the culprit was a little harder to pinpoint.

My husband and I moved to the suburbs, had our first kid, and I, a driven 'what's off-ramping??' kind of marketer with matching Ivy League degrees did just that and stayed home with our newborn daughter. Eventually I got the itch to use my marketing skills again, then entered the unpredictable world of freelancing and working with early stage startups, had another child, stayed home with him, then worked on a series of bootstrapped startups and small businesses.

But that wasn’t enough. After identifying opportunity areas in our immediate neighborhood, I sprang into action, and, with my infant son strapped to my chest, went door to door canvassing for signatures to add a needed stop sign at a nearby corner. Once that was achieved, I set my sights on improvements at our neighborhood park. I had somehow become a real-life black version of Claire Dunphy. Meanwhile, I had peers that had, in a recession, started companies now worth billions.

I had become so many things that my idealistic, driven, focused, 27-year-old newly-minted MBA self might’ve scrunched her nose at.

“Girl.” She’d say. “What are you doing? And what are you wearing? I thought we had plans!”

I was making a fraction of what I previously had been. Driving a crumb-laden SUV. Calendar dominated by Music Together and gymnastics birthday parties. Wearing the same tired jeans.

Who was I? Where did I go???

I got to a point where I decided I needed to ‘get back to myself’. But after some introspection I quickly realized the bigger question was - who is that? And what defines me?

The reality was, I hadn’t gone anywhere. The problem was I realized the things that I had used as the primary markers of my identity - my occupation, income, schooling, even my clothing- were fleeting, superficial - and in a way, lazy identifiers.

I had changed, but in reflection, at my core I was still very much the same person I had always been:

Creative: I was making up names and positionings for businesses that had never existed. And doing it for tiny businesses, something I remembered having a passion for as early as high school, or even before. My mother loves to remind me of the business ideas I used to spout in elementary school, from a store to sell your child’s art (errrr…) to an eco-friendly refill store where you could refill reusable containers to replenish your household consumables.

Funny (ok, corny): This was always there, but I found a new outlet for it with random musings via facebook. My closest family and friends are intimately aware of the extent of my corny sense of humor and love of mom/dad jokes - unquestionably a genetic link to my equally corny father. But as I teeter on the verge of intro and extrovert, my posts wound up inadvertently being a way for more people to see that side of me - and anecdotally, apparently some people enjoy my sense of humor.

Visionary: I realized I had taken my intuitive nature and ability to see opportunities and possibilities for granted. That was why I needed that stop sign and those park benches. That’s why I get excited at the seedling of an entrepreneurial idea - because I can already see beyond the initial idea to the point where it can impact the world.

A Connector: In hindsight, I had often been the link between different members of my groups of friends. As many of my friends were also parents, my children’s birthday parties had inadvertently become known for being massive and also opportunities to introduce people who I thought might get along or shared similar interests.

Life and time had changed my circumstances. But they didn’t fundamentally change who I am. My circumstances just gave me another way to apply those fundamental character traits, my personal ‘superpowers’. These are the things that are so entrenched and come so naturally that I took them for granted until I realized that they are special, and a combination that applies uniquely to me.

So, how do you protect yourself against identity theft? Shift your mindset about the pieces of your identity that are most fundamental. The more obvious and seemingly most meaningful markers of your identity- status, occupation, relationships, location... can change or become irrelevant in a blink.

Your superpowers, however, are much more resilient. What are they?



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