Choose carefully what you consider part of your identity.
Each element you feel identifies you further increases your attachment to it.
For instance, if I identify myself as a “software engineer at Shopify”, or a “writer”, I’ve associated the notion of myself to an artificial constraint.
If a “software engineer at Shopify” becomes a pivotal part in the understanding of myself––what happens when I get fired? Or, what happens if I move positions from engineer to designer?
There’s toil. Suddenly, I’m faced with an identity crisis.
There’s two clear downsides to identifying yourself by external attributes:
Anything can become a part of your identity.
A relationship status.
A friend group.
You can dream up anything, and as long as you feel it identifies you, its game.
I’ve learned how dangerous and counter productive this thinking can be.
Life is subject to change without notice.
Employers go bankrupt.
Salary cuts occur.
Physique changes with age.
Friends part ways.
University status is not ubiquitous.
Sports can lose their appeal.
If your identity is tied to your relationship status––what happens when they leave? Or better yet, what happens when you transition from single to committed? Suddenly, the confidence you gained or empowerment you received from identifying as a “single person”, or a “person in a relationship”, gets questioned. Was the increase in confidence I felt because of my personal growth, or because of the external circumstance?
If you identity as a student who goes to a particular university––what happens when you go to a foreign country, introduce yourself, and they don’t know about the university. You feel unidentified, as though a big part of you isn’t recognizable.
I think the insight is to keep the set small. Let it be filled with real, transcendental, ever-green attributes.
I think it’s fair to identify, or strive to be identified as an honest, loving, high-integrity, self-aware person.
I imagine ultimately the set of things that identify you converges to zero.
There isn’t anything in this world that can consistently identify you, so why pick them up at all?
I’m not a writer, so I can stop writing today.
I’m not a boxer, but I could start boxing today.
I’m not an artist, but I could paint today.
I’m not an engineer. I engineer solutions.
I’m not a university student. I attend university.