08/21/2013 01:21 pm ET Updated Oct 21, 2013

Your Identity Matters


The challenges of the 21st century, including the emergence of a truly global economy, the continued erosion of America's manufacturing base, the rapid growth of economies outside the United States, and profound changes in the very fabric of American -- and global -- society, have resulted in unprecedented changes in the basic skills just needed for survival. Individuals and organizations alike are struggling to maintain a competitive edge. Comfort, security and success are becoming ever more elusive. It is clear that the very definition of our worldview must change dramatically and irrevocably.

Hardest hit are American youth. For the first time in American history, our youth are finding the traditional guideposts that led to becoming prepared and successful adults are ineffective. As the adults in their lives get caught in the web of confusion and uncertainty that the significant restructuring of the world has wrought, youth have become alienated and are disconnecting from traditional processes -- such as education -- at an alarming rate. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 78 percent of all students in the United States graduate from high school with a regular diploma in four years. Dropouts from the class of 2008 will cost the United States almost $319 billion in lost wages over their lifetimes. The systems that worked for their grandparents are failing their parents right before their eyes and will not work for them at all. And they know it.

America cannot thrive if its people do not thrive. And people cannot thrive when they perceive themselves to be stuck in a bubble, when they have lost confidence in their ability to even get and retain a good job, let alone progress through a career that will ensure they can provide for themselves and their families securely throughout their lifetimes.

Never have the people of this country had a greater need for identity -- a clearly-defined methodology -- that has the ability to transform people's perceptions of themselves, the world around them and their place in that world.

It took me a long time to realize that your identity matters. I grew up like most people who were told, "go to school." Finish college, get a job and live happily ever after. Little did I know that there was more that you could do if you only knew how. It was the "how" that took me a long time to begin to figure out. I didn't know the how, the why or the way. Simply put, I could not process or think very well, and I just learned to do what I was told.

Again, like a lot of us, I fell into a routine of doing the same things over and over without understanding how to grow and develop beyond the routine. We often ask ourselves: Where am I going, and what can I do to get beyond the box that I live in? I am stuck. We try out different things only to find out that we go in a lot of different directions, but without a clear road map or clear path. Our thinking process consists of limited information that is not relevant to our growth and development.

The learning system called school, for the most part, only taught me how to memorize, take tests, get labeled with a grade, and forget the information two weeks later. With no definition and ability to define ourselves we get stuck with being defined and labeled by certain classifications: race, gender, class, family, religion, title, job, or even by our relationships.

Little do we realize that we really have the power to define ourselves, as opposed to the world defining us. Again, the question becomes: How?

With over 7 billion people on the planet, humanity faces an identity crisis. Most people, feeling bound and obligated by the roles they serve in their family, their job, their community or nation, will never question whether they are on the right path. Some lack the imagination to envision a different life for themselves -- different from the life they or anyone they know lives each day. The few people who wonder whether life can offer them more may not know how to find, or create, a road to personal success. If we do not know who we are, we cannot understand our purpose, our motivations or our future.

It is having an identity, knowing who you are, finding your purpose and passions, and learning how to shape and navigate your future, that makes the difference. Being able to identify your natural abilities and deciding what skills you have are crucial to developing your identity. Working to focus on becoming an expert today will make a world of difference when it comes to your happiness, contentment, and continuous contribution.

In our ever-changing global environment, we need a solid foundation we can always return to. We are probably more challenged today than ever before because technological changes happen so rapidly and so broadly. On the other side of the coin, we have more opportunity to make an impact and capture opportunities that were once unimaginable.

We can create ideas, innovate, and become competitive in a shorter time than ever before. The world is a collection of unlimited wealth and resources; the question is how we make those resources relevant to who we are. The more we have, the more we can give. Your identity matters.

For more by Stedman Graham, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.