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!
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.
I'm really thrilled to bring you a guest post by Dan Andrews. He runs a product development company in San Diego, runs the Tropical MBA blog, and the Lifestyle Business Podcast. Some really good insights on there, and he's a really solid guy too. Here's Dan -
Try Losing Some Moral Battles and Winning Some Real Ones
When you are bemoaning the success or victory of others, you are generally seeking to achieve a sort of victory yourself. Let's call this a moral victory. Moral victories are addicting. You can achieve them at will. They magically appear whenever you need a boost.
Moral victories do one thing: they make losers feel like they’ve gotten some victory.
Moral victories are popular with people when they feel like they have no real power to make changes in the world. This makes some sense to me-- building power, wealth, and influence is generally difficult.