What, exactly, makes up an identity? In IT security circles, an identity is built on authentication factors:

  1. What you know - A password or pin
  2. What you have - A security token or device
  3. What you are - Biometrics
  4. Where you are - Coordinates or separates confirmation from a system whose position is known

This is nice when I want to make sure nobody steals my THWACK ID and uses all my points to buy socks. But as I pondered the first word in our month-long challenge, I had to ask myself if that definition really spoke to the heart of the matter. Or, as a bunch of Brits eloquently asked the world in 1978, "Who Are You?"

It seems to me that true identity is harder to pin down, and yet made of sturdier stuff than four-factor authentication takes into account. Or to be more precise, authenticating myself to the universe around me might still require four factors, but not the ones laid out by security professionals.

Factor one: history

Certainly, who we were, once upon a time, factors in. But only if our past identity provides a context for who we find ourselves to be.

Factor two: action

Similarly, what we do is an important piece. As Carl Jung said, "You are what you do, not what you say you'll do." But many of us—inside the IT industry and out—have experienced moments when what we do is not what we are. Or at least not ALL that we are.

Factor three: destination

From this point, my thinking becomes much more esoteric. I believe that who we will be is also a fundamental component of our identity. In Torah, Moses asks God, "Who are you?" The reply is "Ayeh asher ayeh." Simplistic translations render that as "I am that I am," but grammatically, those words are much more complex. "Ayeh" more accurately translates to "I will be." Meaning that God's answer to "Who are you?" is potentially "I will be that which I will be," but I've even heard it translated as "I am that which I am becoming."

Why is this relevant? Because immediately before asking, "Who are you?" Moses asks God, "Who am I?"

The lesson is that our identity is inescapably wrapped up in that which we are in the process of growing into. And who, or what, is that?

Factor four: desire

In "The Merchant of Venice", Shakespeare (through his characters) ponders,

"Tell me where is fancy bred?

Or in the heart, or in the head?

How begot, how nourishèd?"

Not only is The Bard asking where desire arises from—our emotional center or our intellect—but he also questions how it came to be, and how it is nurtured (or not). We might know intellectually that something (or someone) is good for us, but find our hearts to be unwilling accomplices. Likewise, we may feel emotionally drawn to something that our rational mind says is a bad idea.

Regardless, our desires—whether professional or personal—play a significant role in determining our choices and therefore our identity.

Walt Disney, one of the most famous dreamers of our age, said, "All of our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them."

By his logic, who we are—our identity—is whoever we are brave enough to imagine ourselves becoming.


Footnote: Here at the start of the Word-a-Day challenge, I am filled with excitement and anticipation of all the things I'm going to learn about our community. I'm hopeful for the chance to grow closer. And I'm grateful that so many people are willing to use this space to openly dream, and in dreaming, become.