Building a sellable personality as a college student can be frightening. Once you enter college you only have 4-6 years left to get some sort of degree, to show off ‘who you are.’ On the other side we also have to work on extracurricular activities in order to develop yourself as an individual.

Understanding key concepts on building a personal (and professional) identity early in life can give you a big advantage compared to your peers who have never heard of these concepts.

One of the concept you are going to learn today is the concept of “Identity Capital.” Identity Capital is a term coined by Meg Jay in her book “The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most Out of Them NOW.” As a twenty-something, this is one of the best personal development books I’ve read in a long, long time.

Meg Jay writes:

“Identity Capital is the currency we use to metaphorically purchase jobs and relationships.”

Identity Capital

Although it sounds monetary, identity capital has nothing to do with money. You can see it as ‘mental capital.’ Capital which you build up over time with everything you do. It grows when you do interesting/inspiring things and it decreases when you lay in bed all day watching television.

Identity Capital is what people talk about when they talk about “Investing in Yourself.”

For me there are basically two types of Identity Capital.

  • Capital which you would put on your résumé. This includes degrees, workshops you attended and jobs you held.
  • Capital which does not fit on a résumé. This can be (un)trainable personality traits, such as charisma or being empathic. Also random skills like playing the guitar or being able to solve a Rubik’s Cube are put here.

Focus on Building Identity Capital

After learning and hopefully understanding the concept of Identity Capital you have to work towards a continuous effort to grow your identity capital. You can do this by simply focusing on the learning opportunities which you come across in your dialy life.

Take for instance looking for a side job in college. Would you rather stack shelfs at the local Wal-Mart or would you be a resident adviser, although it may pay less? Although stacking shelfs could be the easy fit, not too high-demanding and you won’t have any responsibility, chosing the latter would give you more Identity Capital. You learn to deal with problems, learn how people work and you will learn how to handle responsibility.

Picking a side job seems obvious, but the same goes for other choices. Although it is important to relax every once in a while, choose for capital building leisure activities, if you have the opportunity. Reading is always a good one, try to read a personal development book every once in a while. When you go on vacation, you can obviously go to the beach for four weeks, but maybe an interesting trip into the country can be exciting as well. Watching TV shows when you are switching down at night? Watch the Sopranos instead of the regular talk shows to get some sort of quality TV.

Why Should you Build Identity Capital?

Hopefully it is becoming clear building somewhat of Identity Capital is important, even it is only to grow as a person.

But there are more advantages as well.

Mastery Motivates

When you are working on a certain skill, or reading a certain book or when you are engaging in an interesting job you get the feeling of Mastery. When you get more experienced, when you work more, you will understand the job better. After these experiences you will feel you’ve mastered something.

The best moment in my 6 months of playing the guitar right now was when I could pick up my guitar, find the tabs of “Ring of Fire” (of course, by Johnny Cash) and I just could play it. I didn’t need any practice, as it is an easy song. But the chords just made sense to me and the melody was familiar. I had a sense of mastery (although I am not anywhere near a guitar master) in my journey to understand the guitar.

Mastery works motivating, building Identity Capital gives you this as a reward every once in a while.

Spending Time “Useful”

One of the biggest dangers in college life is wasting time. Playing Candy Crush for hours (I’m at level 305, who can beat me?), browsing Reddit or just watching TV with friends. All of the sudden a year is over and you have nothing to show it. When you focus on building Identity Capital you always have something to show.

So when you are right out of college and you have to settle for a job below your education level, try to go for a job which will bring you some sort of Identity Capital. Meg Jay’s example in her book was a girl who had to choose between a job as a barista or an entry job at a digital design studio. Both were low-paying, but the work you do in the design studio will be more rewarding in the long term. It may seem like ‘paying your dues’, but it is nothing more than investing in your future.

You will create Stories

Stories matter. When you enter the job market your interviews won’t be checklists. They will be genuine conversations. With stories you can show real-life examples, in an interesting way, of how you are and why you are that way.

When focusing on Identity Capital you are creating stories. The vacation at the beach? Not that interesting. Going to a distillery in Scotland, please tell me more!

Take for instance my buddy Thomas Frank, from College Info Geek. He chose to build a blog completely of his own, by which he managed to pay off all his student debts. He has an amazing story to tell and a lot of people will be psyched to hear what that story is.

Working on your stories is something you can only do by getting out there. Have interesting jobs, create social skills and get more out of life than what the local paper is offering you.

Start Working

The time is now, your college years are the perfect opportunity to start creating a Warren Buffet worthy capital of Identity.

Personal Development is nothing more than the stack of experiences with a flavor of your personality. Build the stack, work on the flavor. In time you will have a jaw-dropping personality!

Identity Capital is build one piece of capital at the time. What is something you can work on today to improve your story? What will do in the upcoming week in order to be satisfied with the past week? What is something you’ve worked on and where you are proud of? Let me know.

Ps. The book by Meg Jay, ‘The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them NOW’ can be a great help to every twenty-something. Check it out. If you are not sure, watch the TED talk by Meg Jay, “Why 30 is not the new 20“.

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