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)!
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