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THE MYTH OF PERSONAL FREEDOM
AND THE MEANING OF IDENTITY
LIFE HAS ORDER
The idea that you can be whatever you want to be in life is a myth that tortures people needlessly. It forces you to follow false trails such as money, fame, or family approval, or to stay the course out of sheer desperation. It eats at the very core of your being. Why? Because it lacks integrity; it simply isn't true.
Why we succeed or fail on the path we choose in life, and why we feel basically good or bad about the choices we make along the way, isn't a random event. You can't assign credit or blame to how you were raised. Or chalk it up to the luck of the draw. Or to being in the right place at the right time. Or to any other explanation that avoids the truth.
From the time we are born, we are told by loving parents, devoted teachers, well-meaning friends, and larger-than-life public figures and celebrities that we can be anything we want to be. We can be that international airline pilot, that wealthy business entrepreneur, that Nobel Prize-winning scientist, maybe even that first female president, or other head of state, if we aim high, work hard, and stay the course.
The promise of personal freedom is very seductive. Boosting our egos, it fires our imaginations and fills us with hope, confidence, and drive. We come to believe we are free to make choices about our lives that are wide open, unrestricted by anything except, perhaps, our responsibility at some point to care for others--our families, or aging parents, for instance.
From an early age, we swallow this elixir eagerly. Without thinking, we let it coat our way of life. Years later, as we start to consider vocations and careers, we follow this now deep-seated dream in earnest, the dream that the only order life has is the order we give it.
Lying in bed late at night, or as you sit on an airplane as a young executive, or contemplate alternatives for your college major, graduate work, or post-high school life, you look out into the world and ask the question, What do I want to do? I am free. Where do I want to go? The possibilities seem endless. You are drunk with possibilities. They can be overwhelming.
For all the promise they hold, these questions can gnaw at you. Especially when the answers aren't obvious. Or when the answer that seems obvious at first doesn't necessarily make you feel good. It is then, in these sobering moments, that freedom loses some of its seductive charm. It is under these circumstances that you wake up to your desire for some frame of reference you can call upon to help you decide what to do--what is right to do, for you.
In the midst of this budding turmoil, some people continue to hold fast to their dream. They decide, for instance, that being wealthy is the most important thing, so they doggedly pursue jobs in investment banking or as business financiers. Others feel the obligation to walk in their father's or mother's footsteps, and so steadfastly follow the path their lineage suggests. Still others have invested years in a particular field--politics, the arts, science, journalism, sales, accounting, carpentry--and can't imagine walking away from it after so long. All those years, you think; it's too late to change.
Despite how outwardly successful they may be, the question remains: Are these people happy? It is the only question that matters. By "happy" I do not mean you are always cheerful, or pleasant, or even nice. I mean that you are at peace with yourself. You understand your unique capacities and live according to them. You are happy being who you are among others in the world.
If they are truly fortunate, some people really will be happy, down to the very roots of their souls. Others, however, whether they wind up rich or poor, will insist they are happy but know better. For them, something is missing; something grates at them, inside. But they are afraid to admit it, to themselves as well as to others.
Unbridled freedom weighs you down. Stress takes hold: I need to make a decision about my life, but can't. Guilt surfaces: I wonder what's wrong with me, why I can't figure out what to do. Depression filters into your bones: I am lost. I am in pain. Despair grips your heart: I don't know where I'm going; I must be a failure.
The myth of personal freedom--the idea that you are at liberty to pick whatever path in life you want--is the unspoken agony of the modern person. It ignores the fact that life has order, and that that order bears heavily upon your choices--on what makes sense to do with the time you have. The good news is that although you can't be anything you want to be, you have more potential than you know.
The order I am speaking about is contained in a code, the identity code. Much like our biological, genetic code, our identity code is born into each of us, providing a complete map of how we, as human beings, are designed to function--of how we are supposed to live--when we are living according to who we are. Within the framework your identity provides, life's seeming boundaries melt away. Genuine freedom is yours.
By "identity" I mean the unique characteristics that, in combination with one another, define your potential for creating value in this world; that is, for making a contribution that springs naturally from the core of your being and touches the lives of others in positive ways.
Living according to your identity doesn't happen automatically. How our lives unfold isn't predetermined. Identity isn't a form of fatalism, where no matter what you do your life is destined to turn out a certain way. It is the opposite. It is up to each of us to learn who we are, and then to act upon this knowledge in ways that enable us to realize our potential. We are responsible for what happens to us in life. We are responsible for making identity our framework for living.
Our identity code isn't obvious. We can't see it. Our physical senses are inadequate when it comes to comprehending it. But it is there, waiting to be discovered and embraced.
Crack your identity code and the contours of your life will shift. You will not only come out stronger, you will come out larger. Larger in heart, larger in influence, larger in your capacity to love and be loved.
You will find the right friends. You will marry smarter. You will discover the right line of work or field of study, and the place to practice it. You will parent better. You will honor the right heroes and worship the right gods. You may even live longer. You will understand the why of your own life.
THE EIGHT QUESTIONS
The identity code is found in the answers to eight questions. These questions are:
Who am I?
What makes me special?
Is there a pattern to my life?
Where am I going?
What is my gift?
Who can I trust?
What is my message?
Will my life be rich?
At first glance, these questions may appear similar to any number of other life-shaping questions people ask themselves in the course of their lives. Questions like Why am I here? Or, What is my purpose? But these eight questions aren't arbitrary. They come from one source: a series of eight natural laws--the Laws of Identity--which are part of the very constitution of nature and govern our lives like clockwork.
Natural laws aren't a new phenomenon. They've been with us for aeons. Our instinct for self-preservation and innate love of our offspring, for instance, are also natural laws that shape our universe, just as the Laws of Identity do. Natural laws are all about action and reaction. For instance, when you feel threatened, you automatically defend yourself. If your child is in trouble, you instinctively determine how best to help him or her. Your response is involuntary. It is entirely natural.
The idea that there are laws of nature that frame the choices we make in life, and their inevitable impact on our well-being, may seem far-fetched to you. Most people believe the opposite to be true: that life is a freewheeling experience, and you can never know what's coming next.
Yet we readily accept that there are laws that hold sway over the physical world, such as the laws of thermodynamics, which can be scientifically validated. When it comes to identity, and the profound impact it has on one's life, there is no doubt in my mind that equally powerful laws exist in nature, even though they can't be demonstrated empirically.
The effects of the Laws of Identity can be seen, for instance, by observing the apparent quality of your own life: How content or discontented are you? How grounded are you as an individual? Would you say that you are your "own person," or do you frequently follow the crowd? Do you stand up publicly for what you believe in, or acquiesce to others' opinions? The answers to these questions provide clues to whether or not you are living in harmony with who you are. The closer you are to living according to your identity, the closer you are to being in sync with the natural laws I am referring to. The opposite is equally the case.
Not only do the eight questions I put forward flow directly from the Laws of Identity, but how I present them--their sequence--is crucial to cracking your identity code. The sequence of these questions builds in a way that tells a story about how life develops when it is lived through the lens of identity.
Without giving away the ending, I will tell you this: The journey you will take begins by finding and embracing a feeling for life you have most likely never experienced before. The feeling I am referring to can't be reached through any of the five physical senses we take for granted: touch, sight, hearing, smell, or taste.
Once you have located this feeling, you will wind your way through a period of self-discovery, during which you will unearth capacities you never knew you had--and come face-to-face with trials you never knew existed.
Finally, as your identity becomes clear, taking on form and meaning, you will arrive at a place where you are filled with passion, conviction, and serenity--a place you will recognize, finally, as home.
In the course of this book, I will illustrate how each of the Laws of Identity, and the question it holds, shapes a crucial piece of your identity code, and how together these laws add up to a fundamental reality that embraces us all.
DISCOVERING THE LAWS OF IDENTITY
In the summer of 1996, I was vacationing with my family at a ranch in Colorado. Sitting alone in the anteroom of our cabin, my mind drifted back to a conversation I had had with a friend some months earlier. This was the gist of our conversation: I was explaining my belief that there is more to the idea that every person is unique than that truism conveys. My assertion wasn't casual. I meant it literally. There is more at work in the forces of human nature than we know. It has to be that way, I reasoned, because people are born with identities that shape who they are and, by extension, affect what they do with their lives. That conversation rolled around in my mind for well over an hour, as I watched the sun arc across the aspens behind our cabin.
Suddenly, I understood what I had been struggling to say: that there are laws of nature that exist simply as a result of being human and that knowing these laws is the key to understanding our uniqueness and potential as individuals. That revelation changed my life forever.
In the hours and days that followed, that insight absorbed nearly all of my energy. I had opened the floodgates to a well of knowledge within me that had lain dormant for decades. One perception cascaded into another in rapid succession.
In my state of hyperawareness, I sensed the concreteness of my own identity. I could almost feel it pulsating inside me. It was the soft rock at the center of what made me, me. Not only did my identity seem tangible, it also appeared to contain a particular structure--a structure, I realized, that was somehow linked to the natural laws I now knew existed. The image that came to my mind in that moment was beautiful. I felt I was watching the bud of a rose open suddenly, unfolding its petals all at once to reveal a small, glowing sphere at its center.
By definition, a person's identity isn't something to be unfurled like a flower, in ways that expose its hidden parts. The opposite is true: identity is the most perfectly integrated expression of a human being there is. Our identity presents nothing less than the "whole" picture of who we are capable of becoming as individuals. The fact that I was now able to glimpse its remarkable composition only heightened my sense of anticipation.
In that instant, I understood that the structure my identity contained illuminated not just its beauty but its extraordinary power as well. If I could decipher my identity, I imagined, I would discover the secrets it held--secrets about my special strengths and true passions, and what they suggested in terms of which path to follow and which ones to avoid.
Two days later, sitting by a river near our cabin, I watched intently as the trees, the mountains, the cobalt-blue sky, and the late-day sun combined to produce their predictable splendor. From where I sat, it was easy to confirm that life is exquisitely beautiful, as far as the eye can see. But it had taken a different kind of sight for me to recognize how beautifully ordered life is at the core of our beings, where the essence of our selves is formed.
Identity is beautiful and it is powerful. The natural laws I discerned in the summer of 1996 have proven to be as universally absolute, inescapable, and predictive in their effect on life as the laws of physics, which govern the external world. These are the Laws of Identity:
I.The Law of Being
An individual's ability to live depends first upon defining one's self as separate from all others.
II.The Law of Individuality
A person's natural capacities invariably fuse into a discernible identity that makes that person unique.
III.The Law of Constancy
Identity is fixed, transcending time and place, while its manifestations are constantly changing.
IV.The Law of Will
Every individual is compelled to create value in accordance with his or her identity.
V.The Law of Possibility
Identity foreshadows potential.
VI.The Law of Relationship
Individuals are inherently relational and relationships are only as strong as the natural alignment between the identities of the participants.
VII.The Law of Comprehension
An individual's various capacities are only as valuable as the perceived value of the whole of that individual.
VIII.The Law of the Cycle
Identity governs value, which produces wealth, which fuels identity.
From the Hardcover edition.