Five Identities is an activity where each participant has to rank five of their own identities in terms of the most important to them at this moment and share those with other people in the group.
Why did I choose this tool?
I participated in this session in It’s Up to Me 5, run by Antonio Jovanovski, and I saw how much it helped other people and felt how much it helped me in understanding my identities better. I liked how simple it was and how it quickly showed me which identities don’t matter too much to me right now and which identities matter a lot to me right now. It gave me the confidence to express my identity, knowing that I felt very connected with it.
How does this apply to being a trainer?
As a trainer, we interact with many people—participants, fellow trainers, organizers, etc.—and each person will have different priorities when it comes to their identities. Some people may identify first as a student, a son, a Christian, a trainer, or something else, and if we know how they identify, it can help us choose appropriate methods. For example, if we are in a room of what we identify as women, but they mostly identify with their career as business leaders, a workshop that uses examples of being a woman may not be as powerful as one that uses examples of being a business leader. As another example, if we have a group of learners from different nations, and yet we know they all identify as refugees, we can hone a method that highlights the similarities of being a refugee rather than the differences of their national identities.
We all have an innumerable amount of identities—age, gender, nationality, language, Android/iPhone/dumbphone user, athleticism, family position, etc.—and often we don’t pause to reflect on which identities are important for us in the moment and which ones are less important. As we go through our lives, we place different levels of importance on certain identities and this awareness to different aspects of ourselves can impact how we behave and see the world.
This article is about is a simple exercise to practice prioritizing our identities. Below, I describe a short activity that you can do by yourself or with a group to help you rank the identities in your life.
You need 5 small sheets of paper. On each paper you will write your identity as it relates to the following questions:
- What is a role that you play in your family that is important to you?
- What is a religious or other belief that is important to you?
- What is a professional role of yours that is important to you?
- What is a hobby that is important to you?
- What is a name of yours that is important to you?
After writing down your answers to these questions, you will choose one identity that currently is the least important to you right now. If you are in a group, you will share with the group why you chose this identity as #5; if by yourself, you can speak aloud or journal about why you chose it. Then everyone else does the same. Then you will choose the identity that is the #4 most important one for you. And then you repeat this all the way until you get to the #1 most important identity.
This exercise of Five Identities is about how we self-identify—the categories and labels we put to ourselves and which ones mean the most to us. In a training, we often identify the participants and the other trainers, but we often are unaware of how they prioritize their identities. I believe we also rarely pay attention to how we self-identify. I believe that when we are more clearly aware of our own shifting identities, then we are more able to communicate and interact with the self-identities of the participants.
How does this help us address the issue of identity when working with participants?
By doing this activity, we gain a stronger sense of our own identity, and put an emphasis on the concept of identity in general. If we do this activity at a few different times in our lives, we can also see how our own concept of identity changes over time, prioritizing certain identities and disregarding other ones. Lastly, if we do this activity with other people, then we can see how people self-identify in different ways. This enhanced awareness of identity can help us incorporate identity issues into the planning and execution of workshops.
This is an activity to quickly help us identify the identities that matter to us, which can help us as a trainer and a person. It helps us know which things we are likely to be OK with compromising and which ones are nonnegotiable for us. This enhanced awareness of how we prioritize our identities can help us see how participants and other trainers may change in how they prioritize their identities.
- What is one choice that surprised you?
- What is one choice that you knew you were going to make?
- What is one thing that you learned about yourself?
- What is one identity that you wish you didn’t have?
- What is one identity that you’re grateful for having?
- How many people do you think would expect that you put such an identity for #1?
- What’s one thing that you can do now that you know more about your identity?
How to apply it in everyday life
- Do this activity with your family or friends.
- Do this activity with your fellow trainers or coworkers.
- Write a journal entry about why the #1 identity matters so much to you right now.
- Do this activity but instead of telling people how you ranked them, rank them privately, and then ask that person to guess how you ranked them.