When I lost my sequined hat, which I wore nearly every day for three years, I felt out of place. I was the guy who wore the sequined hat, and now part of my identity was most likely in the hands of an unscrupulous backpacker in Panama. But really, I had been getting sick of the hat. It wasn't overly functional, had shed enough sequins that it was starting to look ratty, and was a vestige of my clubbing days. All that didn't change that it had become part of my identity, though. The same could be said about my recent decision to stop being a vegan. It was a comfortable identity for me. Some people saw me as a positive example of veganism. Deciding to eat meat would be an admission that I had been wrong and had given suboptimal advice to my readers. That's a bitter pill to swallow, and I could feel my subconscious fighting to maintain its identity; the battle for consistency over optimization.
Fortunately I've been able to couple my identity to a few key values, rather than staunch positions on issues. I value doing the best thing for myself and others, I value finding the truth over being the one who had it to begin with, I value health, I value independence and freedom, and I value productivity. My means of expressing and embracing these values are different now than they were a few years ago, and I have every reason to expect that they'll continue to morph as I progress through my life.
Staying exactly the same is the opposite of growth. If you want to develop yourself, you must be willing to have a fluid identity, deriving your value and satisfaction from what you're currently doing and planning on doing, rather than from what you've done. It's not always easy, which just might be an indicator that it's the right thing to do.
There's a certain charm and illusion of strength in sticking to your guns. Telling someone that you've been a vegan, or a buddhist, or a minimalist, for ten years sounds really impressive. Changing your mind seems weak, and sometimes requires the admission that you were wrong. But steadfast adherence to an identity is a sign of cowardice. I always have more respect for people who make the hard decision to leave part of themselves behind than I do for people who cling to their past to define them.
This all makes sense, though. Evolving from one identity to another is a lot of mental and emotional work. Work takes strength. The stick in the mud can pride himself on having such strong character that he never changes, but the truth which is usually evident to everyone else, is that he simply lacks what it takes to make hard decisions and grow as a person. Be the person who accepts himself as a person who makes good, but imperfect decisions, and improves upon them when possible, not the person who deludes himself into thinking he got it all right the first time, and desperately hangs on to that fantasy.
Just got back from Bogota, Colombia. Thanks to Matt Aaron for hosting me and showing me around!
Looks like I won't have time to visit any other countries during the rest of the JetBlue thing. Too many places I need to go within North America (Boston, NY, Vegas, Vermont, Toronto, LA)!
Wow, love this post. I had the same crisis when I stopped being vegan about a year and a half ago. And you hit the nail on the head. Veganism defined me to everyone. But I've grown so much since letting self imposed boundaries define who I am. I still stick to things like no alcohol and drugs and thats important to me. But everyone knew me as The Vegan. It feels so good to shed labels.
Everyone wants to kiss your _____ and tell you how eight you are.
I can't do that for you. To give you permission or approval for your evident teetering on the verge of a mental breakdown, would do mire harm than good.
Positive feedback is what would be more up to speed with the mind virus I would wish to catch.
David DeAngelo would say, "Look past what is said, to find out what is really going on."
Reading your spirit, one can see you are down in the dumps at this time.
You seem to be exactly the same character AND SAME LOOK IN THE FACE AND STYLE as my oldest brother whom just turned 30, Oct. 8th, and still is a child, looking for the world to hand him something because he didn't get everything he thought you should have for free like other RICHER, MORE PROMINENT INDIVIDUALS....
"Don't compare yourself to others."
It will only bring envy.
So, he goes around as a user bamboozeler.
After a certain amount of years, it just doesn't work anymore him. He's too old and too ugly you get away with that shit. He lies and says he is 24, so people don't loom down on him.
It would seem I now what to make you another sequinced hat, Bra.
I'm sorry for your loss.
You you two be reunited in the Kingdom of Heaven, in all of God's new splendid glory HE has for you and your sequince hat.
Both this and the previous topic mesh uniquely. They remind me of something a friend of mine told me years ago in high school. He said 'anyone who sees the world the same at 20 and 40 wasted half his life.' I suddenly realized that I had a skewed sense of integrity. I had thought that because I didn't let others change my ideas I had integrity. But how could integrity be both a good thing and prevent growth? It can't. Allowing your identity to change is integral to growth. (You see what I did there? with the words? Ya...) Fluidity of identity, as you put it, is actually a sign of integrity. It shows that you put sincere thought into the values that you care about. When you do that, the expression of your values naturally evolves.
Great post. At the same time I think it is important to have a core being. What exactly this is made up of is hard to say.
What I mean is that, you may be pretty, you may be athletic, you may be academic...but all of that can change in a second so you can't let that become a central part of your being. But you do not some kind of core of power to inject into whatever you may be engaging in.
The real question is can you extract the most simple and positive essence of various things you might engage in, from sports to learning a language, and then make that a part of your central core without the activity itself?
"But steadfast adherence to an identity is a sign of cowardice."
Well said. Pride is an important component of confidence, but one cannot build a healthy sense of identity on pride alone. Personally, my disdain for even considering to borrow money from family (even during my short stay in college) has hindered more than it's helped.
I really like this post because it's exactly what I've been grappling with constantly in the past year. Whitman I think said, I am large enough to be contradictory.
I also share your key values which I imagine most of your readers do too.
There's a lot of work and difficulty involved in shifting identities though. You build a nice niche and depth in your skill set and to start anew in a new field is scary as hell. Especially when you were so good at your past one.
It seems to me that people tend to build delusional beliefs about themselves and the world in general around their identities. They then cling to these beliefs as strongly as they cling to their own identity because the belief supports the identity. Any attack on the belief is an indirect attack on their own identity.
I try to avoid identifying myself with anything and I watch for identity statements that I make that may signal that I have an identity issue ("I am ___")
The Legend of the Sparkly Hat
Anyone who has seen me in real life, seen pictures, or realized that the awesome cartoon at the top of this page is me, knows that I wear a sparkly hat almost all the time.
One day I a friend called to see if I wanted to check out "First Thursday". It's a monthly event here in Austin where the stores on South Congress stay open late and serve beer. Since none of them have a liquor license, they give away the alcohol for free.
On Tuesday, I explored the life of a vegan by, well, being vegan. It was only a one day pursuit, and I plan on returning (for a longer period of time) in the near future. This is part 1 of my explorations as a vegan.
When I went vegan for a day, I didn’t have any lofty expectations. One day without meat and dairy is not a difficult task, even to someone who regularly consumes animal products. That in mind, I was not particularly surprised with the results of my day as someone who doesn’t subjugate helpless animals.
The key to being a vegan is knowing what to eat instead. For over a decade meat and dairy have been staples of my everyday diet, and so not having a burger or sandwich for lunch or dinner seems strange and out of this world. It isn’t insurmountable, I can survive perfectly fine without missing them, but it begs the question: What do I eat?
Again, it’s not about a particular love of meat. Steak is great, but I can live without it. The issue I’ve faced is finding enough alternatives that consist of variety.