Telling our whole stories

“[C]onsider the notion of empowerment. It presumes that the organization has the power and benevolently ladles some of it into the waiting bowls of grateful employees.” p. 91

In this quote Dan Pink was describing one of the faulty assumption he sees arising from the use of extrinsic motivational strategies. As I re-read it for this week’s post, though, it struck me that he could also have been talking about identity. A society or a culture is often the arbiter of what labels are available for us to use to define ourselves. Thus rather than growing into our souls, we wait with our bowls outstretched, yearning to hear what aspects of ourselves we can claim and likewise which are not acceptable.

In the organizational case, the prevailing wisdom Pink is challenging is that the individual requires something or someone external to sanction his or her power. In the case of diversity work, a critical misconception we are seeking to overturn is that only the powerful and the privileged have the right to define the options for naming and framing one’s identity. Complying with these externally mandated conventions when defining yourself usually comes at a cost: a cost to self-esteem because it presumes an outsider has the right to be making decisions about your worthiness, and a cost to self-understanding because when we use only the labels approved by others, we must often hide or deny a part of who we are.

With these thoughts and Pink’s quote in mind, consider the following questions:

  • Where have you given away your power to define yourself?
  • What stories about who you are do you struggle to tell due to a dearth of appropriate language?
  • Where is the currently acceptable terminology marginalizing key parts of your identity while perhaps empowering other aspects that you see as only incidental?

Your whole story deserves to be told and thus diversity work needs to include striving to create environments where intrinsic sources of power and motivation are brought to the fore. In such environments, the only permission you need to be yourself is from yourself. When you can embrace who you are and use that definition to build self-esteem, self-compassion and self-respect, you are able tap into your deepest sources of power — self-awareness and self-trust.


Pink, Daniel. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. NY: Riverhead.


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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Telling our whole stories