How Do You Define Your Identity?


I love superheroes.  Perhaps it’s because I grew up stepping on my younger brother’s Batman figures.  Perhaps its because my cousin’s oldest son wholeheartedly believed, at the age of two, that his father looked just like Superman.  (For the record, while he does have dark hair and flies…planes, John is not Superman.)

As an adult, I notice their abilities to keep their two identities completely separate.

Often, as an entrepreneur, small business owner, large business owner or, honestly, just someone who adores his or her job, we wrap our identities into our careers.  (Ali Brown does a fantastic job of discussing the subject here.)  For years, I was “Mara Shorr, Radio Producer,” “Mara Shorr, Fundraising Producer,” “Mara Shorr, Director of Development and Community Relations” and so on.  And now, indeed, “Mara Shorr, President of The Leone Company.”

When I started The Leone Company, I had a goal I wasn’t sure I could accomplish.  I wanted to represent “The Leone Company” when I was out on business, but represent “Mara Shorr” when I was persuing activities that relate to my personal life.  For example, at networking events, business meetings and strategy sessions with clients: Mara Shorr, President of The Leone Company.  Grocery shopping, wine with friends and dog park trips: Mara Shorr, Lover of Wine, Dogs and Friends.

The more I have attempted to keep the two “Mara Shorrs” separate, the more I realize this may not be possible.  After all, potential clients and opportunities for business are always just a conversation away.  At the grocery store, over wine and at the dog park.

I am, after all, the proud daughter of a father who is known for never having met a stranger, a man with the gift of gab.  It’s been a successful strategy for him, as even when he’s out with my stepmother, a brilliant doctor, playing poker, they meet potential new patients holding the hand next to them.  It’s not abnormal for my stepmother to examine a stranger’s skin right then and there, handing them a business card.  And then receiving a follow up call scheduling an appointment at the office the following day.

My biggest strength, and what sometimes turns into my biggest weakness, is my ability to build strong relationships.  Relationships with family, with friends, with clients and with potential new supporters for said clients.  I enjoy constructing new way to work with the people I admire, including some of my closest friends.  But, does doing so blur the lines between personal and professional identity?

I believe, more and more, that while it’s healthy to have two separate identities, chances are high you’ll have to quickly transition from one identity to the other, acknowledging a potential new client from someone you just met at the grocery store… and knowing when to show a bit of yourself in a business relationship.

I welcome your thoughts: how have you handled your two identities?  Do you believe you should have two… or perhaps more or less?

(And in case you were wondering, this past Halloween, I was absolutely a rockin’ Batman.)