Today on The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how to define your identity.

Trying to define who you truly are is one of life’s biggest struggles. Often, when we define ourselves, we tend to focus on the negative aspects of our identity or how we compare to other people around us.

In today’s episode of the show, Steli and Hiten talk about how to define yourself, why Hiten tweet about this topic in the first place, they share some tips that can help you define yourself and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:27 About today’s topic

00:37 Why this topic was chosen.

01:26 What made Hiten tweet about this topic in the first place.

02:45 Things that shape your identity.

04:05 Why a lot of our titles are mostly just labels.

04:45 How to define yourself.

05:50 A core part of Steli’s identity.

06:53 How Hiten defines his identity.

08:15 How social media makes defining your identity much more difficult.

3 Key Points:

  • Don’t try to find yourself, just define your self.
  • There are certain parts of who I am and how I live my life that are core to me.
  • The core part of my identity is that I am somebody that loves to teach.



Steli Efti: Hey everybody this is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah. And today on the Startup Chat we’re going to talk about how to define your identity. Oh man. Identity, what’s that? Who are you? Stel who are you?



Steli Efti: Well, who the fuck are you? That’s a good question. It’s not easy to answer. I don’t know. It depends. It depends on who I’m talking to, right?



Hiten Shah: Oh man, you opened a can of worms.



Steli Efti: Well, you tweeted about this, so it’s your fault, right?



Hiten Shah: Crap, I opened a can of worms. And you just opened, you just put another one next to it and said, “Let’s open this one too.”



Steli Efti: Of course. You tweeted how do you find your identity? And I observed that tweet for a little while and there were all kinds of interesting replies to that. And then I was like, all right, I need to double click on this and we need to go deeper and figure out why did you think about tweeting it? What did you learn from the responses? And what is our answer to this fucking question? Which is obviously a big, can be as big and ambiguous and philosophical as we want it to be or more practical. And I don’t know where we’re going to go with this. So let’s rock and roll, but what made you tweet this in the first place?



Hiten Shah: I like really hard questions. This is a hard question. What defines you? How do you define your identity? Who are you? What are you? And is it defined by the people in your life or is it defined by you and what you feel about yourself? Or is it different in every moment? So who do your kids think you are? A father, right? I mean that’s the construct they have.



Steli Efti: Yeah.



Hiten Shah: Right? You’re my father, okay. Now, when I think about that, I’m like, “Okay, well how do I identify with my father?” He’s my father, but I am his son. And what’s the difference between those two? That kind of philosophical question gets really interesting when you think about your relationships and how you’re identifying yourself in them and how the other person’s identifying you in them. And what dynamic does that create? So that’s one aspect of it. Another one is just much simpler, which is who am I and what do I want to be? What do I want to put out in the world? How do I want to carry myself? I mean, all these things shape your identity. Even the most fantastic thing. And I’m going into, I’m basically dropping a bunch of nuggets for you just to see what you want to pick up. But one other one that I always think about is this idea that, do I really know this other person or do I just know one aspect of them?



Steli Efti: Yeah. I mean, this is a tough question and I’ve thought about this on and off this year in different situations where people would write, people, here’s an example. People would write a summary of who I am because I’m now an advisor or I am a speaker at the event or something, right? Something external where they want to advertise that I am involved and they write up something really impressive and everything they can think of who I am. And there was a moment I remember a while ago where I read all these things and like, it’s interesting, all these things are so superficial, right? Speaker, founder, CEO, investor, advisor, author, podcaster, whatever. All these things they sound really cool but they’re not that meaningful in terms of who are you truly? And just I don’t know I don’t want to sound cliche in terms of they’re just to “labels,” but they are. Two people could have author, speaker, investor, as labels and they could be completely different people, right? It doesn’t give me a really good sense of who this person is. It gives me a sense of some of the things they may be involved with and some of the work they might be doing, but it doesn’t really tell me who they are. And I don’t know. It’s a tough question and I think that … I come back and this is, so this is maybe the direction that I would take with us. I come back to this one quote where it’s like, don’t try to find yourself just define yourself. Right? I’m not sure in defining, I think how you define your identity to a large degree is determined by who you want your identity to be ultimately. As we go through life, we are some things of who we are and how people define us happen externally. And some of them, hopefully happen through deep internal work. Right? But I don’t know, dude. I don’t even know, like so let’s go through, let’s try this practicum and go through it with us, right? If you asked me Steli please define your identity right now, I would struggle, right? But I do think there’s certain parts to who I am and how I live my life that are very core to me. So I think being a teacher of sorts is a very strong part of my personality and identity. And that teacher personality can come out as a podcaster or a speaker or as an author, right? But those are just the different venues I used to teach. But the core part of who I am as my personality and how I define myself from an identity point of view is that I am somebody that loves to teach what he knows to others. Likes to share his knowledge with the world. Besides the teacher thing, entrepreneur thing is probably part of my personality, which is I like starting new things. I like starting companies is something that’s been part of my life forever. So it’s definitely very close to my identity. But if somebody asked me to use one word to define myself, I would go with teacher. Before I would go with entrepreneur. In a weird way, I think it’s more core to me to be a teacher than to be an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is just a venue for my creativity and my trying to teach and create value in the world. And then it keeps going. There’s obviously when you’re a daddy you have children, being a father is a big part of being a friend, there’s many, many parts to my identity. But the core of it, of everything that I do in one way or another, is really trying to teach and share with as many people as possible what I learn. Well how would you define your identity if I asked you who are you and how do you define your identity? Do you have even an answer to that?



Hiten Shah: I don’t really have an answer to that.



Steli Efti: Yeah it’s tough, right?



Hiten Shah: Yeah. I mean, anything I can come up with I could change in a moment’s notice for myself. I don’t identify with a lot of things that people might identify me with. Such as, like you said a podcaster or entrepreneur, founder, businessperson or advisor or, you know, honestly even father. Yeah I have kids, I love my kids a lot maybe more than life itself to some extent. But I don’t know. I mean, I want to be their friend. I don’t know if I want to be their father. You know what I really think about that. I’m like oh maybe be their friend’s better than being their father. Something like that. So I think this question is one that just with all the social media around us and the life that exists, where people are definitely proud of who they are. There’s a lot of pride and social media really pushes that. Whether it’s what people say on Twitter about themselves or just in general or things people are posting on Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat and this and that. Identity becomes something a lot more fluid, number one. Number two, it also becomes much harder to define for yourself. Back in the day, if you are a doctor, your identity, you’re a doctor, you’re a doctor. In fact, it’s doctor and then your name.



Steli Efti: Yeah.



Hiten Shah: Dude. Or it’s professor and then your name. It’s like, whoa, damn. Okay. I always find those very crazy where it’s like the doctor is doctor, and I grew up with someone who everyone called him doctor ’cause he’s a doctor, right?



Steli Efti: Yeah. Hey doc.



Hiten Shah: Yeah, Literally my dad’s nickname is doc. The closest people in his life call him that. His old friends from back in the day, doc. Hey doc, what’s up? Because where he was at, there was no other doctor, there was no other doctor that they can rely on. And he always loved helping people ’cause he’s a doctor, they call him doc dude. That’s his identity. He’s a doctor. I even say, him even believe that’s his identity. I don’t know. I haven’t asked him. So I think it’s kind of insane as to where things were with identity and where they might end up going, where we become a lot more fluid. Especially as we think through like, oh, a lot of people have side gigs, side hustles or are freelancers on top of their day job. They could identify with multiple things already as a result of that.



Steli Efti: Yeah. I think what I’m getting to as we talk this through, out loud is that I think that defining your identity might be a problematic framework to begin with. That might be a problem more than it is a solution to anything. Right?



Hiten Shah: Right.



Steli Efti: I think the healthiest people I meet and the type of person or the type of life I want to live is one that is multifaceted, right? And rich and diverse. And so picking one thing over everything else that I’m involved with and that is part of my personality and the way I live my life in the way I manifest my thoughts into the universe. Picking one thing and putting that on as a putting that on my hat and being like, “This is who I am completely.” I think that’s not a solution to any problem, that is a problem, right? That is creating one dimension of people or creating humans that are too attached to an external identity of sorts, right? They want to be founder, CEO because they find that if they identify with that, that is giving them status, and significance in life, and that gives them external admiration and appreciation and status and if they lose that, if they are not that anymore, if I’m not the founder CEO anymore, then they are lost, right? Then they don’t know who they are and they don’t know how to deal through life and they feel insecure and they feel like they’ve lost something valuable. Versus understanding that founder, CEO is not who you are, it’s what you do. It’s your position right now and it could change, right? It doesn’t mean anything really. You could be, if you’ve been around the block as long as we have, people give themselves all kinds of insane titles that mean nothing, right? VP of marketing. And then it’s like, “Oh, how big was the marketing team?” “I was the only marketer.” What did you vice president then, right? A senior, senior director of all, right? Who were your managers? Well we didn’t have a manager. It was just me in that team. and it was my first job ever. So it’s like these titles don’t mean Shit. What did you do? And who are you is not an easy question to answer because hopefully you are many things at times in different contexts. You can be shy and certain surroundings and outgoing and others. You could be introverted in one area and extroverted in the other. You could be interesting in a and interesting in completely different topic B as well. You can’t just be one thing. And I think attachment to identity or trying to find an identity that you think will solve your problems or give you the worth in the world that you need or the recognition in the world that you need, I think is much more of a problem than it really is the solution. So that’s why I think when I was really young when I was like 14, 15 and I was struggling through life for many different reasons. If somebody had told me that one day next to my name, I would have some of these titles and I’d be like founder or CEO of Tech Company living in the US, author, international speaker. I would have been like, “Wow, it’s amazing.” That’s incredible. That’s everything I ever wanted to achieve in life. And now I look at these things and they’re meaningless because I’m like yeah it’s just the words that people use, but who I am is not defined by these things. And looking at these words that people attach to what I do is not what gives me pleasure or fulfillment or meaning in life. So I think that that’s really it. Maybe you should never really define your identity. At least not in a rigid one word or one framework way.



Hiten Shah: Yeah. It’s not. It can’t be. I don’t think that’s the way the world is anymore.



Steli Efti: Yeah. Alright, we’ll keep this one. We’ll wrap this one up at this point it was a philosophical episode. Those are my favorite ones. The ones that don’t have easy solutions sometimes. And practical, tactical six minutes, this is what you should do. This is what you should do. Avoid these mistakes. Goodbye. I’d love to hear if anybody had any thoughts on this episode, disagree with, if you’re listening to this and you’re like, “These guys don’t understand identity, let me explain it to them or I disagree. This is the way you should go about it.” Let us know. We want to learn. We want to be challenged with our ideas and thoughts. So shoot us an email, and tell us how you define your identity or why you should know what you should or how you agree to disagree with us. That’s it for us for this episode we’ll hear you very soon.



Hiten Shah: See you.