Small Footprint Identity

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.

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