Once in a while I do something that threatens my status as a minimalist. It was pretty clear cut when I traveled the world with nothing but a backpack and had nothing back home, but now it's not so clear. I wear the same shirt every day, but I have real estate in a few different places with my friends.
Identities are comfortable because they give us a way to describe ourselves to the world. We can say a lot about ourselves in just a few words, and we also have some assurance that even if our identity is an unusual one, it will be accepted.
This is true even of negative identities. There are people whose main identity is "likable unlucky guy" and those people will actually feel more comfortable when things don't work out for them than when things do.
The fundamental problem with identities is that they are constraining. Because it's uncomfortable to do things that don't fall within the sphere of your stereotype, you'll be less likely to branch out, even if it's best for you.
Doing things because you think that they're your best option is a good idea. Doing them because they're the easiest things to do isn't so good.
When I stopped traveling 100% of the time, the only real resistance was that I felt like I couldn't call myself a nomad anymore. When I stopped being vegan my only hesitation was that I would disappoint people who thought of me as a vegan.
The solution is to give your identity a very small footprint. The fewer things you define yourself by, the fewer constraints you have on further growth.
These days I don't really define myself by much. When people ask for a self introduction, I usually say that I'm a guy who does weird things and tries to share the lessons from them with others. That leaves me a long leash and I find it hard to think of any scenario in the future where I'd want to escape that label.
Some people think I'm a materialist, others think I'm a minimalist. Some think I'm a nomad, some think I'm a guy who travels. Some of my favorite restaurants are barbecue restaurants and others are vegan restaurants.
Make it a rule to never label yourself. Other people will do it, but it has less gravity that way. Pride yourself on the decisions you make, and define yourself by the quality of those decisions. When you do find yourself falling into a stereotype or subculture, make sure that the aspects you borrow from it are those that serve you, and not the whole package deal. Be hard to define.
Photo is a view from the Whitney museum in New York.
I've definitely held myself back because of my 'identity' before. It's liberating to drop labels and do something outside of your supposed identity. Paul Graham has similar thoughts here: http://www.paulgraham.com/identity.html
Who ever you are you keep appearing and have things to say that resonate with me ! Wide awake just thinking about my collection name forthr designs I am going to work on "identity" and if it's the right name !
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and wisdom xx
After all these years of reading your posts, since probably 2009, this is my favorite one you've ever written.
Nice post. When identity becomes restricting, its no longer useful. I've definitely felt that at times. Thanks for sharing.
This is a great post on so many levels. We all tend to act in a way that is congruent with our self identity without actually realizing that we are doing so. Why? Because it takes the thought out of actions. It makes decision making easy because we simply default to whatever decision is congruent with our self-identify. "I'm a traveler, so I should say yes to going on this trip. I'm overworked so I should say no to this fun opportunity because I need to recharge, etc, etc, etc."
BUT, once you break free from locking yourself into the constraints of your own self identify AND the identity that other people assign you, it's quite liberating, and your new "identify" is in fact someone who caters to their true desires and can be somewhat unpredictable - nothing wrong with that!
If there's something I'm known for amongst friends and acquaintances, it's that I tend to do things to extremes. I can't just do speed dating, I have to work my way to the top of the pickup food chain. Instead of moving in to a smaller house, or even a big RV, I buy the tiniest RV I can. I can't take a week long vacation to Thailand, I have to get rid of everything and go full nomad for years. Cutting out fast food isn't enough, I cut out everything that's remotely bad for me.
What I write about less are the counter extremes. I was an introvert who was terrified of girls. I lived in my own house with a whole room dedicated to warehousing my stuff. For years I didn't leave the US. Before I began eating healthy, I went to McDonalds so much, and brought my friends so often, that they actually stopped charging me for food AND giving me winning Monopoly pieces to get free food elsewhere.
I do this with just about anything. The other day while writing a post, I wrote, "I don't do everything in a weird way. For example, I..."
So, everyone's got an identity. What you think you are, what you identify with, how you'd describe yourself.
This identity thing is a big deal in terms of how you see the world. If there's a clash between the world and your identity, you'll probably favor your identity over the world.
That's... not good, but it's almost everyone. A few people seem to dissolve their identity, or base it around a rather robust principle (like truth, in the pure abstract unfiltered form) - but that's incredibly rare.
So okay, you've got an identity, it affects how you react to the world, and if the world and your identity comes into conflict, your identity is probably going to win. That's not necessarily a good thing, but it's how things are.
Given that, it's really important to not have an "oppositional identity" - that's where you define a big part of who you are as what you're against.