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From Notion Impact: Identity as a Social Investment Thesis

May 6, 2022
by
Josef Scarantino
April 25, 2022

As published on the Notion Impact newsletter.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
~ Robert Frost (h/t Will Sarni)

The topic of identity has been stuck in my mind for many months. Prompted by my own years-long self-discovery and countless office hours with a diverse array of founders, emerging VCs, and others in startupland.

I had plans to write an essay on the crucial role identity played in shaping our wildly different journeys in entrepreneurship. But last week I read a simple tweet by Henri Pierre-Jacques, Managing Partner of Harlem Capital, and someone I deeply admire for his own journey and identity.

There is no prototype. Just be YOU.

His words cut right to the heart of it all and pretty well summed up what I wanted to say. Identity is so crucial to who we are, yet we are surrounded by images, prototypes, models of what we’re supposed to look like, act like, talk like, operate like. There’s no wonder we are so apprehensive of openly sharing stories of imposter syndrome. We are engulfed in environments that propagate unachievable standards and endless competition. They also set unrealistic expectations for rising stars who might otherwise add tremendous value and diversity to the world of startups and venture capital.

We should be moving in the opposite direction. Breaking molds. Encouraging differentiation. Building more on-ramps vs raising up walls.

The reality is there is no prototype. This is the age of hybrids, make your own path, create your own title. I happen to be an ambivert with a winding, if unconventional, pathway into entrepreneurship and venture capital. But instead of seeing my wide experience and early adulthood introversion in negative terms, I've come to embrace them as my greatest strengths later in life. My wide experience comes as a result of a nearly insatiable curiosity to understand not only every side of venture development, but also where I can contribute the most value. Introversion, when properly harnessed, can be the ultimate superpower in venture when you need to connect deeply to founders or rely on intuition when decisions aren't so clear.

Many of the projections we witness online are attempts at signaling value, importance, and ultimately belonging. I'm no stranger to this either, by the way. Everyone wants to find their tribe, or in the most greedy sense, create their own tribe where they make the rules.

I’ll let you in on a secret. When you begin to shed the insecurities of your identity and focus more on doing what you love, being authentic, and adding value to others, you find your tribe. Or at least your tribe finds you. Over time, your identity comes naturally and suddenly you discover you are right where you belong.

Peeling back the layers of superficiality and living more authentically is a bold, audacious step into the unknown, and for most people quite terrifying. I know, I’ve been there. It's often a continual effort. After all, it means being vulnerable to a world where we risk certain rejection and judgement. At any moment, we can choose to recoil and fall back into our sheltered, protected lives. And yet, it’s in vulnerability where we find our greatest strength and our tribe.

For some, vulnerability is where they find their superpower.

Identity has become the core lens to which I view the world and relate to people. You might even say identity is my overarching social investment thesis. When fused with genuine curiosity and a devout search for humanity in others, identity becomes the treasure, the reward, you discover in someone else. Finding identity is what helps bring forth empathy and enhances the beauty in the world. It’s what makes everyone unique at their core. Seeking identity in others is what makes supporting entrepreneurs the best job in the world, at least in my eyes.

How is identity showing up in your life? Your work? Your network?

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