What Do You Tell Others (and Yourself) With Your Email Signature?

Posted by: Jeffrey Landine on August 15, 2012 12:58 pm

The following mottos were included as part of the automatic signatures on emails sent to me in the past few weeks:

“The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us.” – Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes)

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”    ~ Maria Robinson

Bloom where you are planted!

John and I have been talking about the development of identity and the relevance of this development to vocational decision-making.  I have been referring fairly often to a recent book by Mark Savickas entitled Career Counselling and in it he describes, at length, a narrative approach to the recognition of vocational identity.  Mottos are often adopted as a form of identity crystallization providing advice to one self about who I am and who I want to be.  When I got a new cell phone, setting it up for the first time, the phone offered me the opportunity to add a “Greeting message” which would become visible on the screen every time I started the phone.  Now when I start my phone I am reminded to “Persist”.  Persistence is a characteristic that I value, and it is one that I believe has helped me greatly in my academic and professional life.

We express identity in other ways of course: the brands we purchase, the clothing we wear, our choice of activities for example. Mottos, however, often represent what we know we have inside but may not have expressed to others or ourselves. John made the point in our last entry that Eric Erikson believed that “the best identity formation takes place when the individual finds social roles within the larger society that provide a good fit for his/her biological and psychological aptitudes and interests.” John went on to say that identity expression can be seen as most effective when it meets the expectations of society while also meeting their inner expectations of self.  Erikson’s stage of Ego Identity development came to be seen as constituting two distinct sub-stages. Early in the process of identity development, the object of an individual’s identity is the peer group.  I have often characterized this stage as evident in the tendency for early teens to dress, talk and act alike, resulting in the formation of distinct groups in and around school that are recognizable by their similarities.  Later in their development, typically the later high school years, the object of an individual’s identity becomes centered on how they are different from their peers.  This becomes evidence in the need for teens and young adults to purchase clothing that is distinct from those of their peers. It seems to us that the application of mottos to one’s life could be seen as similar to the choice of clothing in creating identity. In early stages of the identity development process, youth are motivated, and motivate themselves, by the same mottos as their peer group.  As they get older and more differentiated however, they will likely identify with and respond to their own particular mottos.

The identification of mottos in Savickas’ assessment process involves making explicit the implicit self-knowledge about how one is able to overcome obstacles and move forward on a problem. We, as practitioners, should be fostering the ability in youth and young adults to reflect on and identify the mottos that push their lives forward and then to, as John has suggested, project application of these maxims onto a possible future in an occupational role.

Jeff Landine and John Stewart

Savickas, M. (2011). Career Counseling. Washington, D.C.: The American Psychological Association.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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