Do we fit?
Where do I fit?
These are the ultimate identity questions. We all want to know if we fit in our jobs, in our families, in our relationships. How do we begin to answer these questions?
Like everything else, we must trust our feelings. Our feelings have purpose. One of the biggest reasons we have such strong feelings is to help us determine where we fit. As fit improves, we become happier. When fit remains stable over time (whether for good or bad), we may become content. When fit worsens, we develop negative feelings like anxiety, sadness, or anger.
What does it mean to fit in a place?
Fit is really a question of value. What do we value? How do we arrange different aspects of our lives in terms of value? What is most important: family, career, lifestyle, hobbies, etc.?
Follow these steps to determine if you fit
Step 1. Start by taking each of the important aspects of your life and arranging them by value. Put them in categories of Most Important, Moderately Important, and Less Important. Be honest. Put things where they belong.
Step 2. Next, create three circles. Have a small circle, then a larger one, then a largest one.
Step 3. Now start filling in the three circles. The center circle, being the smallest, can only fit 2-5 words. Generally, these words are critical people in your life, the closest members of your family. Imagine the people you might donate a kidney to or run into a burning building to rescue. For some people, career/job would go in the center circle, but take care. There isn’t a lot of room in the center for both career/job and multiple family members. As you move out from the center, people and things get less important. Your willingness to sacrifice on their behalf becomes less.
Most people have a hard time being truly honest with themselves in filling in the value hierarchy. To keep yourself honest, look to past behavior to find out what you truly value. Where do people land? If you live far away from someone, they don’t belong in the center. Which jobs or family members would you relocate for? Where do you put your material goods? What about your favorite hobbies? Your best friend?
If you have an addition to alcohol or making money, put those things in the center where they belong. Keep in mind, there’s not a lot of room in the center. If things start to get crowded, draw another smaller circle. What/who would you sacrifice for what/who? Look to past behavior to make that determination. How do you allocate your time? Be brutally honest.
Step 4. Next, we want to determine if there is a good fit. To do that, we have to draw another value hierarchy. If you are evaluating your fit at a job, ask yourself where you are situated in that job’s value hierarchy. Sketch it out. Use employer’s behavior as a guide. How easily are you replaceable? Does the employer put its employees or customers / making money first? Again, the center of the circle doesn’t have much room.
This is an example of a good fit. Both the employee and the employer value each other to the same degree. The job isn’t the most important thing in the employee’s life (immediate family belongs there), but there is still a considerable amount of loyalty. From the employer’s standpoint, the employees are valued to a moderate degree, but the employer isn’t willing to sacrifice its own long-term well-being for its employees. Overall, this is a healthy situation for everyone.
One could easily imagine a job where the relationship is less important to both parties. Consider a fast-food job or something temporary. One could also imagine a job where the relationship is more important to both. Consider a professional athlete who spends 12-16 hours a day on their craft. This career probably belongs in the center. There may or may not be room for anyone else. Other spouses and family members may belong just outside in their own dedicated circle. There may not be anything wrong with this so long as everyone is honest with themselves.
Not a good fit
Here is an example of a poor fit. In this case, the employee values the employer far more than the employer values its employee. The employee exists in the employer’s outer value circle and is essentially replaceable. On the other hand, the employee is expected to value the job to a considerable degree.
Remember that a value is different from a feeling. Feelings are innate to the individual and outside our immediately control. Conversely, we value things through our actions. In the value hierarchy, it makes no difference what the parties say about each other. Words are meaningless here. Nor does it matter how they feel about each other. The employee may hate their job. But if their actions show that they value the job to a considerable degree, it makes no difference what they say they feel.
A poor fit, like what is shown, is extremely damaging to both parties. The relationship is psychologically perverse. It creates moral injury and a toxic environment. One side feels “used” while the other side naturally manufactures a culture of dishonesty as it fights against the reality that it is abusing its employees.
The same thing occurs in personal relationships when one person values the other more highly. Unless the distortion is resolved, the relationship is destined to become more toxic over time.
There are many other types of distortions in value hierarchy. A person’s marriage can become cold over time. Both parties may agree that they no longer value each other much, and so the relationship may appear to be balanced. However, one person or both may be acting in unhealthy ways because the situation is far from what they want out of life. They may be depressed or anxious, and their actions will likely reflect this alteration in mood. They may constantly pick fights with their spouse or refuse to speak cordially with them. All of these actions are signs of tremendous distortion.
Keep in mind that just because something or someone is on the outside circle, that doesn’t mean they aren’t important or that you can’t develop excellent relationships with that person or endeavor. One should strive to have healthy, satisfying relationships with everyone. We only use the value hierarchy to determine order of importance. When push comes to shove, who or what takes priority?
Suffocation: A person may be suffocating their partner. When this happens, other aspects of the partner’s life may be pushed way to the fringes. There may not be much room for other parts of the person’s identity. This is not healthy as it naturally leads to co-dependency.
Aim to achieve balance with your value hierarchy. Each circle should remain free of distortion. All relationships inside the circles are proportional. How you value your friends corresponds to how they value you. The same thing can be said for your job and other aspects of your life.
If two people don’t value each other equally, then they don’t fit together. Unfortunately, this then requires a reevaluation of the relationship before they begin to resent each other.
Next, we will look at how to evaluate Identity.