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  • Writer's pictureBrienne Jennings

Getting Rooted: Figuring Out Your Identity

Recently, I’ve been thinking about identity; how rooted I am in who I am. Identity encompasses the memories, experiences, relationships, and values that create one’s sense of self (Psychology Today).

For instance, my family is from the South, so I speak to people with a certain level of respect, affection, and kindness (and a little spiciness). I’m also a Jersey girl (no jokes, please!) which I think accounts for some of my directness and toughness in certain situations. I’m a Christian, which means I approach the world with a different set of rules. I’m the daughter, sister, and niece of social workers, so much past, present, and future is definitely rooted in caring for others. These pieces of where I come from and who raised me have become part of who I am. That’s how we begin to develop our identity.

I recently did a DNA test to learn about my ancestry. For those who don’t know, most African Americans are unsure of their ancestry as policies and practices during slavery served to erase language, culture, traditions, and family ties, which are all a part of identity development. Getting the results back on my ancestry stirred a fire in me to learn more about who exactly I am. Most of us spend our lives being defined by other people. What would it be like to define ourselves?

It’s important to remember that identity isn’t just what we look like or our country of origin, but can include all of the following (and more):

  • Race

  • Sexual Identity

  • Gender Identity

  • Language

  • Ethnicity

  • Religion

  • Disability

  • Professional

  • Characteristics

Ever wonder why on a job interview it’s easy to talk about concrete things like your current job function or what school you went to but when they ask you to describe yourself, your mind goes blank? We’re not sure how to describe ourselves because we don’t know what we’re rooted in; where our identity lies. I read a great book called, “Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual” by Luvvie Ajayi Jones and one of my favorite parts is where she talks about oriki.

Jones says, “An Oriki is a greeting that praises you through praising your kinship and speaking life to your destiny. It is your personal hype mantra, and can be spoken or sung. The original attempts to tell you who you are make up your oriki. It’s used to remind you of your roots and your history… It lets people know who you WERE, who you ARE, who you WILL BE. It reminds you of those who came before you and blesses those who will come after. It might even include some shade.”

How do we start this path of self-discovery? How do we begin to identify ourselves?

  1. Make a list of what it is about yourself that you’re proud of. Is it your family name? Maybe your country/state/city of origin? Maybe the way you interact with others. How about your talents?

  2. List your values. Go to this list created by Brene Brown and circle/highlight the ones that are important. From that, choose your top five and then write or talk about why they are important to you.

  3. List what brings you joy. What are you happiest doing? What could you never see yourself doing without? What excites you when you wake up?

  4. Start paying attention to what motivates you to do/not do something. Are you doing it because you want to do it or is it because others expect you to? Just taking a look at why you’re doing something can help you see what the different pieces of you are.

  5. If you need somewhere to start, look up the meaning of your name. You might recognize some of your strengths and characteristics through this!

  6. Like Luvvie Ajayi Jones says, we need to hype ourselves up! Once you figure out pieces of your identity, turn it into a mantra (check out her video on creating an oriki in the references).

I’ll leave you with part of my identity to get you started (in my favorite color, for effect):

Brienne, house of LeMay and Jennings

My name means high, noble, and exalted

Lover of all things sci-fi, psychology, and plant-like

Child of God

Black feminist who takes her coffee black

Daughter of bold, honorable women who never hold back

Business co-owner

Educator and caretaker


When we know who we are, when we are firmly rooted in something, no storm can knock us down.

Thrive Well!


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