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KerryOn: Identity Begins with Me

I never thought of myself a runner. It wasn't until several years ago when a stranger opened my eyes and shined a light. This epiphany became the spark which helped me explore my identity.

I was in a specialty running store to purchase a new pair of shoes. I knew the shoes I wanted to wear - they were mile-tested for me. The salesperson came from behind the desk to ask if I needed help finding various brands to try on. No, I was looking specifically for X brand, in X size. “Are you a runner?” she asked. I looked at her puzzled and hesitantly told her I wasn’t, but I was training for a full marathon. “Your first?” she asked with a bit of excitement, eager to give me encouragement. When I answered that it was my seventh. She looked at me and said very slowly, “You... are... a... runner.”

And she was right because, let’s face it, I have all the qualities of a runner. I average 300-400 miles when I’m in training, and as of September 17, 2023, I’ve finished 17 full marathons. That means I’ve spent over 5,000 miles running (not including non-training runs).

So, why was it hard for me to identify as a runner? Perhaps because I don’t have the extra-slim-small-shoe-size physique of a runner. Simply put, I don’t think I look like a runner. And what’s more is that at times I don’t feel like a runner. Meaning, I have a false belief that while running the long miles I should feel fantastic, like I’m 100% in control. But anyone who has run a long race – including a marathon – will tell you mental and physical fatigue, along with pain and second guessing will happen at some point, until you cross the finish line.

Identity begins with me. People see me as a runner with my gear on running endless miles on the road, waving to each car that passes by. But I too must identify as this marathoner – it’s what I do, it’s who I am.

This experience of identity is similar to people who hesitate to call themselves “a leader”, even though they possess valuable qualities of leadership: listening to others, engaging teams in activities, and inspiring people to become their best. They... are... a... leader.

I’ve been studying the topic of leadership for decades. I’ve been in leadership positions in many organizations – it’s my doctorate topic of expertise and what I teach to 300+ professional college students a year. What I’ve noticed is when people are asked “Are you a leader?” They look puzzled, hesitant to answer. Perhaps it’s because they don’t think they look like a leader. They aren’t running large global companies, focusing on social issues, or changing the world. They may not feel like a leader because they hold the false belief that leadership should be effortless, and they should always feel “in control”. But a leader is never 100% in control, and no matter how seasoned they are, the mental and physical fatigue, along with pain and second guessing will happen at some point. And there is no finish line.

Identity begins with us. We aren’t all going to look and feel the same as other runners, leaders, employees, or parents. You name the label, and we’ll have endless ideas of what it should look and feel like. Yet, in the end, that only means identity can be anything.

Special Note: My running partner in life and I completed the Sydney Marathon days before our 25th wedding anniversary. We smiled every step of the 26.2 miles or 42.195 km to the Opera House.

KerryOn Questions

- What are some of your identities (what you do, who you are)?

- Are there identities you have difficulty calling yourself? Why?

- How would you answer the question, “Are you a leader”?

The Kerry behind KerryOn

My name is Kerry K. Fierke, Ed.D. (pron. Fear-Key) I have a unique combination of skills and experience – decades of fast-paced corporate experience in Fortune 100 companies and large health care organizations, combined with the academic rigor of a highly ranked research university. My focus is supporting others to create their own path to leadership development, lifelong learning, and a unique leadership legacy. Take a moment to focus on leadership, then KerryOn!

To see all KerryOn's and other leadership stuff, visit

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