The Source of Your Identity
By Dr. Barbara Lockhart
At the August 2015 BYU commencement, President Kevin J Worthen gave this counsel: “I ask you to reflect on the words of Os Guinness, who astutely observed that, in today’s society, ‘work takes up so many of our waking hours that our jobs come to define us and give us our identities. We become what we do.’ . . . Guinness urges us not to fall into the trap of defining ourselves by our jobs. . . . I urge you to consider this concept as you move ahead with your lives.”1 Why would such counsel be the focus of the BYU president’s remarks? What is the danger in letting what you do become your identity? I can tell you firsthand the difficulties because this is exactly what happened to me.
Photo Courtesy of the Digital Universe
and Sarah Hill
When I was only 17 years old, I won the Olympic Trials 500-meter speed skating event. This placed me as the first woman on the first US Olympic long track speed skating women’s team. Skating occupied the majority of my time between the ages of 15 and 28. I was involved in music, did well in school, and even had full-time jobs, but skating was my main focus and therefore defined who I thought I was.
Several years later, the missionaries taught me the gospel and I was baptized. After fasting and praying to know if Joseph Smith’s First Vision was real, I received a profound, positive answer from Heavenly Father. This experience taught me that Heavenly Father does exist, that He knows me, and that He is willing to communicate with me. It also taught me that because this restored gospel is the true Church of Jesus Christ, every doctrine I would learn would be true.
President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that “true doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior.”2 Eventually, the beautiful doctrines of the gospel helped me see how far off base I was and the price I was paying for taking my identity from worldly contingencies rather than from God. My value was placed on the line every time I skated. If I did poorly, then I thought I was a failure. I didn’t have a healthy perspective to see that I, personally, wasn’t a failure, but simply had skated poorly that day. If you think what you are doing creates your identity and value, then you cannot deal objectively with failure or success—they are too tied into your ego. On the other hand, if you distinguish who you are from what you do, then you can be grateful for and content with what the Lord has given you and not have to seek anything else to define you.
The scriptures teach that each of us is a child of God and that God loves each of us; we are precious in His sight. Prophets have testified of these truths in every LDS General Conference that I can remember. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught these truths at the time of the restoration of the gospel. These truths are basic to the plan of salvation. As basic and well known as they are, it is quite a challenge to live these truths. The adversary throws powerful, competing influences at us in this mortal life. For me, coming to know these truths had a great impact that led to a real change in my thinking and behaving. As Heavenly Father answered my fervent prayers, He changed my heart and my nature. Being an Olympian was and still is fantastic; it is one of the most exciting aspects of my life. But through much pondering and prayer, I realized that while skating was and is a wonderfully rewarding part of my life, it is not who I am; skating is something I do.
Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can be spiritually reborn and we can put off any worldly identities.
By allowing a source other than Heavenly Father to establish our identity, we put ourselves at odds with Him. This action puts us on the path of pride, which prophets have warned us is the universal sin. Whether we base our identity on our looks, talents, intelligence, degrees, number of children, or any other factor, we demonstrate that we think we are the creators of our identity and value, rather than acknowledging that these vital realities of our life are from God. We then put ourselves in the position of having to defend our identity and being vulnerable to others who may question our abilities or do better than we do.
President Worthen’s counsel is wise. Know your true identity. When you embrace that you are a child of God, you will thrive. You will draw closer to your Father, desire to do His will, and fulfill the measure of your creation. You will have peace, joy, love, and all the fruits of the gospel. You will have the strength to meet the adversities of life, and the Lord will open doors for you.
Who will you become? This is a most serious question and one that will greatly impact your future. Be grateful for who you are and for the gifts Heavenly Father has given you. Be the unique child He has created you to be, and you will joyfully fulfill your destiny.
1. Kevin J. Worthen, “Who You Are and the Things You Do,” August 2015 Commencement, August 13, 2015.
2. Boyd K. Packer, “Little Children,” Ensign, November 1986, 17.