Diversify Your Identity

If our identity clings to too few things, we become fragile. Jim Carey’s father wanted to be a comedian, but it was risky. He decided to become an accountant instead. One day, he lost his job as an accountant. He was fragile. Jim took this to heart, learning that “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”

Nassim Taleb has made a career studying risk, writing Antifragile, Black Swan, and other books about risk.

“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.” — Nassim Taleb

“Hormesis is a biological phenomenon whereby a beneficial effect (improved health, stress tolerance, growth or longevity) results from exposure to low doses of an agent that is otherwise toxic or lethal when given at higher doses. The philosophy of Hormetism, advocated in this blog, is based upon harnessing this biological phenomenon in a deliberate and systematic way in order to increase strength and resilience.” — Todd Becker

A key aspect of hormetism is progressive overloading. For example, as a new lifter, deadlifting 315lbs. might seem impossible. But, many lifters can deadlift this amount of weight after a few months of consistent training. The act of working towards mastery is fulfilling by itself. Chris Guillebeau perhaps said it best with “the happiness of pursuit.”

We must use hormetism to make our identities antifragile.

Set up your life to diversify your identity. Then, if something goes away, you have other things. For example, when I was working on a startup in college, it was my everything. I was the founder. I was working with my friends. I was working on what I wanted to. I’d introduce myself as the founder. Then, the startup failed. I was devastated.

A few years after college, I wasn’t working and entered a romantic relationship. Things moved fast. My girlfriend wasn’t working either. We hung out all the time. Then we broke up quickly and unexpectedly. I was devastated. She and I had been codependent. We relied on each other too much to meet each other’s needs. My system was fragile, and I collapsed. I couldn’t function for days.

What to do about it?

Derek Sivers perhaps said it best with his article “There’s No Speed Limit.” Working on five projects at a time might seem insane, and maybe is absurd right now. Start with one. Then you can add another, and another, and another. After some time, it will become routine. It will be just like deadlifting 315lbs. The important part is to keep trending in the right direction. In each moment, you can choose to be aligned or misaligned. If one project slows down, dies, or goes away, that is ok! You have other ones. Different projects are different puzzle pieces that makeup identity. For example, I am a son, a writer, a lifter. Also, you can state what you do, rather than who you are. Or how you feel in a given moment. Everything is impermanent.

At the Palo Alto Creamery, the staff has shirts that on the front say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” On the back, they say, “It’s all small stuff.” Once we recognize that all things are impermanent, we can cherish them while we experience them. Knowing that they will go away allows us to appreciate them while they are here, like fireflies. Part of what makes them magical is that they light up for a brief moment. Their darkness makes their light more beautiful. We can do the same for our identity projects.

Be mindful of how you describe yourself to others. The classic “mid-life crisis” or “quarter-life crisis” or “end of life crisis” often is due to the fragility of identity. The self has so strongly identified with one thing, or a particular few things, that when those things go away, panic sets in. Diversifying your identity is like protecting the portfolio that is you.

Be confident, yet unsure. It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. — Mark Twain

Being confident about who you are doesn’t have to mean that you know who you are. Being a doctor or a lawyer or whoever doesn’t make you more important than others. Even if you make more money than someone else, have more friends, more influence, etc. doesn’t mean that you are “better” than them. You may be more attached to the idea of who you are, but you are replacing who you are with “what you do,” “what you have,” etc.

How are you diversifying your identity? 😶

PS- If you enjoyed this, it’d mean a lot to me if you shared it with someone else you think would as well!