The writer and theologian Henri Nouwen first described these five lies of identity that many sportspeople believe.
Five lies about identity:
1) I am what I have
It’s a trap to find your identity in the privilege you are given, in the prestige you receive, in the uniform you wear, in the trophies you receive, in the public platform you have, in the special access that you have to people and places, and of course in the money you earn. But what you have does not define you. Most of it can easily be taken away or foolishly forfeited.
2) I am what I do
Sport is what you do, but not who you are. To represent your school, club, or country is a privilege, but not a defining characteristic of your life. To be a champion is an honour, but not a personal identity. Any or all these descriptions may be true of what you do, but they are neither primary nor permanent statements of your identity.
3) I am what other people say or think of me
You are not what others may see as a glamourised image, someone almost superhuman. You are not how others’ flattery portrays you. Your public reputation, good or bad, does not define you. The poorly informed esteem of colleagues and the media is not who you are. Neither others’ opinions, their flattery or criticism, nor any other external assessment of you defines your life.
4) I am nothing more than my worst moment
Your lack of poise in a crucial moment is not a life defining situation. Your absence when critically needed does not establish your identity. You may have failed to perform, spoken foolishly, been morally compromised, exposed for cheating, dropped from the team, publicly humilitated. None of these moments of failure or neglect ultimately define you as a person.
5) I am nothing less than my best moment
Your highest achievement does not define you, nor does being part of a championship team. Neither do the times when everyone loves and respects you, or when it seems everything you touch flourishes. Your identity does not hang on the fleeting memories of your best days. To be defined by your personal highlight videos is simultaneously pitiful and delusional.
Overcoming lies about identity
Believing these lies of identity comes easily. Yet none of them are genuine, secure, and permanent indicators of who you are. As sportspeople we need to find something better to define us.
I have found the ancient wisdom of the Bible to be extremely helpful in understanding my identity.
You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. (Psalm 139:13,14)
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. (Jeremiah 31:3)
Further reading on lies about identity
If you would like to discuss the issue of identity further, contact us to find a local Sports Chaplain.
Which of these five lies do you believe the most?