How do you define yourself?
That is a question we should ask more often. Humans are both simple and complex. We are complex because we are constantly changing, whether on a grand or minute scale. Our beliefs evolve, our behaviors evolve, and our preferences and pleasures evolve.
We are simple because, for chunked periods of time, we are relatively consistent in what we do and what we like.
All of these likes, dislikes, behaviors, and actions define who we are. No one thing can completely display who we are — unless you are a celebrity, of course.
It is easy to weigh certain parts of our make-ups more than others. If you are super passionate about running, you may tell others you’re a runner. If you are a vegan and proud of it, you start to tell people. The more you act upon a behavior and discuss it with others, it starts to dominate your identity.
When acquaintances think of you, they may think “the runner” or “the vegan” and nothing more. Hell, you may even think that of yourself.
It is important to remember, though, that we do evolve and change over time — consciously and subconsciously. If you’re “the runner” but eventually begin to hate running (or physically can’t run anymore), what are you then? There are other things that go into your identity, but do you even know what they are?
This paragraph from James Clear’s “Atomic Habits” discusses the idea of a diversified identity:
One solution is to avoid making any single aspect of your identity an overwhelming portion of who you are. In the words of investor Paul Graham, “keep your identity small.” The more you let a single belief define you, the less capable you are of adapting when life challenges you. If you tie everything up in being the point guard or the partner at the firm or whatever else, then the loss of that facet of your life will wreck you.
I think everyone, in some way, is guilty of a narrow identity. When I think of myself, I think, “writer.” People in my life probably see me that way, too.
A way to get away from this narrow-minded view of ourselves is to break down what we do most into why we do what we do most. Some examples from “Atomic Habits”:
“I’m an athlete” becomes “I’m the type of person who is mentally tough and loves a physical challenge.”
“I’m a great soldier” transforms into “I’m the type of person who is disciplined, reliable, and great on a team.”
“I’m the CEO” translates to “I’m the type of person who builds and creates things.”
When you attempt to define yourself, look at what you do — whether it be your job, side-gig, or favorite hobby — and break down why you enjoy doing it.
I’ll start. I’m not a writer; I’m a person that loves researching interesting topics, learning new things, and sharing my discoveries with the people of the world.
You could do this with the largest or smallest part of your identity. I’m not a sports fan; I’m loyal and stick through things whether it’s easy or difficult. I see things through and am not afraid to critique the process if success is not being achieved.
Don’t put yourself in a box. The pieces of you that help you achieve success and happiness in one area of life can be translated into other areas if you are willing to break your identity down into smaller pieces.
Start looking at what makes up your identity and asking more questions. That way, if that precious job, hobby, or accomplishment is stripped from you, you can take what you know and find something similar elsewhere.