How do we define our personal identity?
A recent theme I’ve explored has been to understand personality through Jungian typology (and the later Myers-Brigg typology which is heavily based on Jung’s Psychological Types). Our personality governs how we perceive ourselves and how we interact with others. In that sense, it’s possible to conceive of personality as being the Form of our personal identity. It is the essential shape and outline of who we are, but lacks the detailed depth that comes with what we say and the actions we take. Those words and deeds are the Content. If Form and Content come together in harmony, a clear sense of personal identity – our personal brand – emerges. It is a brand that will make sense to others because it makes sense to ourselves.
This is a powerful and flexible way of viewing identity as it allows for active practical interventions to adjust the brand to our liking. The first step is to identify our natural Form; our core personality. Introspection and personality tests like MBTI can help with this. Secondly, we can determine whether we are living our lives (the Content) in harmony with that Form. For instance, are we in a job or relationship that naturally complements our personality, or are we trying to blend immiscible liquids together? Finally, we can adjust the Content to better fit in with the Form by making changes to our lifestyle that allow us to maximise our strengths and minimise our weaknesses. If need be, Form can also be nudged slightly in a different direction, but Content is almost always much simpler to change. It is easier to fill an amphora with wine instead of oil than it is to create a completely new vessel.
I often relate psychological principles to clothes on this blog but in this case, it was clothing that led me to this line of thinking. Consider a man wearing a tailored suit. The basic form is set by the core nature of these items; a jacket and trousers. However, the form comes with individual variation: number of buttons, vents, lapel size, degree of shoulder padding, gorge height and so on. The content is also highly variable: the fabric material, weight, pattern, colour and so forth. A suit with conservative form will naturally take to conservative content while a suit with fashion-forward form may find its optimal expression with equally unusual content.
However, this is not always so. Sometimes a conservatively cut suit can be combined with an unusual colour to create a strikingly eccentric look that is made all the more interesting because of those conservative boundaries of form. And sometimes an aggressively-styled suit is rendered more pleasing to the eye by using a conservative cloth. Different designers play with these two continua to define their own brand identities. For example, Thom Browne often uses conservative classic cloth with an extreme shrunken form, whereas Ozwald Boateng has been known for vividly leery colours on a fairly classic suit. Tom Ford sometimes ventures to wild extremes on both axes with his heavily stylized suits in bold plaids, whereas Brooks Brothers is often conservative in cut and cloth.
Form and Content combine to define our personal identity. If yours seems unclear, identify your natural Form and then choose the Content that harmonises best with it to suit the identity you want to project.