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8 Easy Ways to Build Your Identity Capital


We are often more interested in the destination than the journey to get somewhere. Many of us pay less attention to how one makes a successful career —as a blogger, writer, politician, professor, etc.—than their current position. But here is the thing: Unless you understand what it takes to succeed in your career, getting to the desired destination would be very challenging.

It is important to know this because life for many of us, especially students, can be rough. Economic hardships and lack of time deprive many young men and women of their dreams. It is difficult to devote your time to something you love to do when you have to work to survive.

This is why it is important to understand what identity capital is. To define it simply, it is the things that we do to invest in ourselves. Put another way; it is the tools, skills and knowledge you collect over time so that you can use them to land your dream job, start your own business or pursue a degree in higher education.

Having the gift of genius like Srinivasa Ramanujan’s is rare.

So, if you are a twentysomething college student or just anyone broke and disappointed and in search of your next best move, here is how you can build your identity capital, one thing at a time.

1. Read books: Read books relevant to your field and expertise to get new insights and knowledge. Be a specialist in an area of your interest. However, it is also important to diversify your reading interests. A basic understanding of psychology, philosophy, sociology, culture, politics and other everyday phenomena is a big plus. If you are going through hardships of life, adding books on positive psychology to your library would be beneficial.

Check out Man’s Search for Meaning, Meditations and The Four Agreements. I am sure you can find plenty of other books. In life, nothing is more powerful than awareness of your predicament and finding a way to reconcile with it. A persistent interest and habit of reading great books do that precisely.

2. Get practical experience: Reading alone is not enough, of course. Get some practical experience in a relevant field. If you want to be a writer, find a writing internship or tutoring at a writing center. If possible, find a volunteer position at a local newspaper. If you are interested in politics, get a paid or an unpaid position with the Mayor or Senator of your constituency. Unfortunately, these positions are usually unpaid but they are worth your time.

I know you may find plenty of unpaid or low-paid opportunities but it is tricky to fit them in your schedule, sometimes. For example, if you are in college and have to choose between an unpaid writing internship and a pizza delivery job, it can be daunting. However, you have to think what is right for you in the long-run. If you can manage, maybe you should take both.

You may have to sacrifice some of your time, but in the long run, the writing internship can be beneficial if you want to build a career as a writer. Pizza delivery, on the other hand, does not give you hard skills like writing, communication and organization which most jobs in the market require. However, you can still gain valuable experience of hard work, cooperation and communication  in addition to financial help to get by.

These experiences may seem insignificant, but keep in mind that it is the little drops that make the ocean. These foundational experiences may eventually turn into bigger and rewarding careers. They will equip you with the life skills of interpersonal communication and living a purposeful life. For instance, if you tutor for some time, you may get a job as a teacher, and the pay and experience both can be very rewarding.

3. Learn every day/Take courses: Another way to build your identity capital is to take courses at your college, university or even online. These courses may not land you a job, but they will undoubtedly provide you with new knowledge and skills essential for the job market. Coursera offers plenty of courses in numerous fields. You can also take free online courses on Coursera. There are many opportunities if you look for them, and this brings me to my next point —curiosity and the desire to ask for help.

4. Be curious and ask for help: Look for opportunities. Ask for help. Network with the right people. If you don’t, no one will care because why should they. However, when you ask for help, be genuine, kind and have a real reason for why someone should help you. Show why you deserve it: Whether it is financial assistance for your Ph.D. or application for a free course at Coursera. Tell them what you will give back in return. If you do this, you will be surprised at the opening doors of opportunities.

5. Dress professionally: Dressing professionally may not be important to many, but quite honestly your choice of clothes does matter. It matters to the people around you and employers. To dress well, you need to buy stuff, which can be expensive but you need to be smart at it —visit the mall or a local store once in a while to search for bargains, wait for sales and get pieces that can be worn for multiple outfits. I am sure you can find a way to do that wherever you are in the world.

However, don’t get me wrong. Good clothes are not going to do much if you lack these other qualities.

6. Be trustworthy: Trust and credibility are great qualities. Your family and friends and employers will admire you for it. So be credible. Don’t just disappear from a job which you don’t want to continue. Face your boss and tell them the truth even if it is unpleasant. Be courageous and don’t hide from the harsh realities of life because the way out sometimes is through it not around.

7. Be humble but confident: Humility is a great asset. Be humble as a person. Be kind to friends and people in general. Intellectually, be humble but autonomous and confident in your knowledge. The best way to do so is to be curious and skeptical. Always be doubtful  about the world but take commitment on issues when you are sure you are right. One way to do it is by finding out the right way of thinking about things —in other words, doing philosophy. Check out this great course on Introduction to Philosophy.

8. Listen more, talk less: Many people don’t listen anymore. One of the worst implications of mobile phones is that it has worsened people’s listening habit. Their attention deficit is remarkable. Look around if you have not noticed. I don’t find many who pay attention.

So, listen to people and talk less. However, talk where you feel like you need to and avoid saying unnecessary things. This does not mean you should keep listening for hours because you will run into folks who would not stop talking. Just be respectful when you engage in a normal conversation. Don’t talk over others.

These habits may not promise immediate rewards but if you practice them enough, you will surely see positive changes in your life. They can be challenging but are worth trying.

Let me know what helps you in your every day life in the comments below.


Aslam Kakar


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