The brilliant Jane Dutton at University of Michigan’s Ross School for Business, and author of Exploring Positive Identities and Organizations: Building a Theoretical and Research Foundation, studies how employees create a positive self-definition, or a positive identity, at work and beyond. She states that the pathway to creating a positive identity can be described by the acronym GIVE: growing, integrated (the different sides of who we are), virtuous and esteemed.
These days, instead of lists, I think of everything in tables since it allows more depth into each item on the list. For GIVE, I’d then think about GIVE with respect to each domain of our life, such as professional, emotional/psychological, physical, spiritual, relational, and financial for example. That list of 4 now expands to 24 items, which is officially overwhelming.
That’s OK, I’m not trying to say that we have to attend to each of the 24 items every day or even every year. However, thinking about GIVE in a comprehensive manner, gives us options and food for thought.
In fact, I think a productive approach to this might be to think about the possible domains for GIVE as a personal relay race. For example, this spring, I’m working on growing my positive identity at work, but this summer, I’m working in the physical domain. I can maintain the “IVE” parts from each domain all year, but growth takes intentionality and effort, so I’ll pass the baton to focus on different aspects at different points in time.
Growth mindset has been on my mind a lot since reading Carol Dweck’s Mindset book (see my blog from 5/24/26 to review). It’s difficult to have a positive identity without acknowledging your ability to grow. Since our mindset is contextual, perhaps thinking about ourselves from the perspective of the different domains we can get a better sense of where we have self-limiting, fixed mindset.
Even within those domains, there is much granularity. I know that I personally have fixed mindset mostly in the creative endeavors, I guess a subset of the emotional/psychological domain. Even in the physical domain, I feel I’m pretty flexible, except in my hamstrings. Recently, I have noticed that I can now start a yoga or PIYO class with the ability to bend over and touch the ground from the start of class, which is clear and hard-earned progress for me. Yes it’s taken probably a year of regular attendance to stretching activities, but it shows that I can grow even with regard to my hamstring flexibility.
Such beliefs are common in the gym; I frequently hear instructors needing to tell others how hard the workout was in the beginning and that it became easier with time. Even as someone who (more or less) stays in shape most of the time, I find that when I start an unfamiliar class, program or activity, it’s almost always hard at the beginning, even if I’m fairly experienced at it. I have literally been going to aerobics classes my entire life, and even going to a new aerobics instructor means a learning curve at first.
In other words, expect that growth will be difficult but definitely possible and easier over time. Once you’ve made some progress, then you can set yet another new goal, which will again starts off by being difficult. As you pass the baton from goal to goal or domain to domain, you’ll see that you will make great progress over time. You’ll be a more accomplished and resilient you, more virtuous and esteemed than ever!