Identity Crisis

Years ago, after passing out from SISPEC, I was posted back to BMTC as an instructor (yes, what you saw on “Ah Boys to Men”, I was doing that).

I remember that awkward feeling of seeing my ex-section commanders (my sergeants) upon my “home-coming” to Pulau Tekong. Even though I had already gotten my 3rd Sergeant rank,  I still find myself greeting them as “Sergeant So-and-So”. Of course, they were quick to remind me nicely (something unthinkable back in my recruit days), there was no need for me to address them by rank. 

If that was not bad enough, there was this little issue of recruits calling out “Good morning, Sergeant!!” whenever I crossed their path. In my mind, I still thought of myself as a trainee like them, (despite having the rank sewn onto my uniform), and it took me quite a while before getting accustomed to my new rank. 

After a few months (especially after my first full batch of recruits), I began to feel more at ease with my role, and understood what it meant to be a section commander.

I am not supposed to be a nice guy, acting “friend-friend” with those young men under my charge (though most of them would be hoping ) but someone who were able to give (or bark) instructions, to instill discipline (mostly through endless pushups..),  and to toughen ( with the emphasis on tough) those boys through their 3 months of misery… ( I mean training) and by the virtue of me holding that appoinment, I was THAT someone.

You could say I finally embraced my new “identity”. I am no longer Axl, the trainee but Axl, the section commander.

Identity is a powerful thing. The role that you see yourself in is going to shape your behaviours, values, beliefs and most importantly, your actions. If you see yourself as a leader, you will lead. If you see yourself as a salesperson, you will sell. If you see yourself as a businesman, you will create business. Those actions comes naturally to you because “that is what you do”.

But on the other hand, if you see yourself as a gambler, you will gamble. If you see yourself as a beggar, you will beg. If you see yourself as a loser, you will contrive to lose. The only way to effect a permanent change is until you alter your identity.

There was this story told by my pastor which illustrate the power of identity:

Zig Ziglar, the internationally renowned (and recently deceased) motivation speaker was walking on the street one day when a shabbily-dressed guy accosted him to buy a pen for $XX (he was really begging, the pen was just an excuse). While most people would just pass him the money without taking the pen (thinking it was a kind gesture), Zig paid the money and asked for his pen.

Upon receiving his purchase, Zig told him, “You are no longer a beggar. You are now a businessman.”

Years later, at a one of his seminar , Zig Ziglar saw the same man again, only this time dressed in a nice-looking suit. With gratitude, he told Zig that those words that day changed his life forever. From that day on, the man worked hard to conform to the new identity that Zig had given him, and he had since become a successful businessman.

While I cannot be sure of the authencity of the story, I am convinced of the validity of the lesson in it. Giving someone a higher identity is often much better than giving them charity.

There were also one very famous story in the Bible that further underline the point :

(Judges 6:11-16)

When Gideon was still threshing wheat in the winepress, hiding from the Midianites, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him, and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!”

Gideon, instead of being uplifted by God’s words, feebly replied “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” But the Lord assured him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man.”

Mind you, Gideon was, at that time, the furthest thing from being a “man of valor”. He was timid, inferior and full of doubts, even when the Lord Almighty had appeared right in front of him. But no matter. Gideon’s doubts did not stop God from calling out to him with a new identity: that of a brave, mighty warrior who would liberate his people from the oppressors… and the rest, as the cliche goes, were history.


We may be a little lamb on the outside but we have the Mighty Lion inside.


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