Identity, /ɑɪˈden·tɪ·t̬i/: who a person is, or the qualities of a person or group that makes them different from others
I am reading this book “Far from the Tree” by Andrew Solomon. It is a book about children that are different from the families their born in; that feel differently, communicate differently. The black sheep in their families, how Germans like to say.
He introduces the idea of a vertical and horizontal identity. The vertical identity you get from your family and upbringing, horizontal identity when you feel belonging to a community or group of people that have things in common with you.
This gave structure to something very familiar in my life. From a very young age, I’ve been in search of horizontal identity, as I’ve always felt like the oddball in my family. I did, however, find this identification among the friends that I’ve collected throughout life. A crucial experience was going to the burning man for the first time, meeting a tribe that felt as odd as me. It made me feel accepted, happy and appreciated for who I am.
And now I’ve entered another tribe.
The Clipper tribe. A bunch of people that have decided to take part in this crazy venture, all for very different reasons, united by determination.
The goal is relatively simple, we sail around the world, as safe and as fast as we can.
At crew allocation, I finally got to know who this tribe was: my skipper Nick Leggatt, first mate James Finney and some of my crew.
But putting people together that come from different places with one goal, really doesn’t form a crew yet.
We started out with the classical “Forming” phase, checking each other out, a bit confused, unclear about what needs to be done and who does what. Not knowing our place in the team yet. This phase, therefore, holds a lot of uncertainty.
How to create a feeling of belonging?
…especially in the extreme circumstances of a race with a total of 20 -24 crew onboard that are rotating in shifts with always one third being off duty, meaning asleep.
What is interesting is, that before we get to that point we are already communicating and creating what will soon be our own traditions, even though we are miles apart.
Creating a structure for a future life together in a limited space and time.
What we are doing is: brainstorming a team song, making a list of what to buy with our crew fund, asking people to take on roles like organizing food ( to feed 20 people 3 times a day), engineering, stop over management, Fundraising, social secretary – keeping in touch with the crew not sailing and the supporter, our social media.
It sends people to a place of imagining what is needed and therefore have them naturally find their place in the group.
And slowly, the tone of communication changes. We start cracking jokes and I get more calls instead of e-mails and texts. We start identifying with the race, our skipper and our boat.
How people think of themselves – their identity – is a powerful predictor of how they show up. When team members have it in their bones that they’ve been put together to do something special, they often act special.
I have met my crewmates exactly like that so far.
A healthy team identity is a source of strength (and sometimes shelter) in the storm of everyday work. Its how we do things and we become more conscious about it.
We are preparing for our race and starting this week we will sail together as a team.
When have you last thought about your identity?
How has it changed throughout your life? and what caused those changes?