Identity and Labels

I always found it hard to give myself labels.

Since a couple of years ago, I have been running around with a grocery list of topics that interest me. To name a few: Entrepreneurship, Design, Coding, Technology, Evolutionary Psychology, Innovation, Productivity and Philosophy.

Yet, when I need to update my Twitter or LinkedIn profile everything has to fit into a tiny space of a couple pixels on a digital screen. Damn it.

The only option then is to pick what fits best. But the older I get, the harder it gets for to see which of the topics is the biggest part of my identity.

If you look at a pie chart of my day, the answer seems obvious. I spend most of my time pondering about my small company, doing sales and managing project/clients. This would make me a classic Entrepreneur.

But if I picture that everyone sees me only as of the "Entrepreneur", something feels wrong. Especially because the topics that I pursue in my free time, are often as important to me as what I do at work every day.

For example, I love to read about Evolutionary Psychology – a new and small field of science which tries to understand human behaviour through the lens of evolution. The same goes for Philosophy, something I found practical to find meaning and my place in the grand scheme of things. Where do I put this into my identity?

I'm pondering about the topic of identity for the better half of the last month. I'm still on the search for a good answer, but I made some progress in my thinking. I wrote that down into simple guidelines, that are easy to keep in mind.

Keep Your Identity Small

Back in 2009, Paul Graham wrote an essay titled Keep Your Identity Small. He makes the argument to purposely leave out specific topics from your identity and not to label yourself with them. Why? The reason is that people are often unable to think rationally about something that they count as part of their identity.

If you take the average discussion about religion or politics you can see this at play. People often communicate past each other. Which often leads to endless discussions.

This made me realise that it's not necessary to stuff everything into one's identity and that it can be valuable to leave things out.

Philosophy is a good example. I like to read about it, but I guess that once I label myself as a "Stoic" some people will quickly put me on the spot to question my beliefs and knowledge and I would be in the position to defend myself.

Show, don't tell

Some people only have the time to shortly talk to me. Some only visit this website once and read only the claim on the homepage. Those people will form their opinion on whatever they pick up in this short time.

But the majority of people will form their view based on what they see from me over time. This could be a blog post, a picture I post, or something short that I tweet. Producing content and showing my thinking/interests publicity grows my identity naturally.

The effort of producing content also acts as a filter: Only letting through the things that are meaningful for me.

Keeping it flexible

Think about this for a second: Change will never be as slow as it at this moment. Do you agree? If so, then the consequences of this would be that the world in 10 years looks very different than the world we live in right now.

When change happens at such a speed, it's unlikely that we will stick with the same identity for our entire lifetime. There will be new challenges, skills and job titles that we are not aware of at the moment.

Therefore it makes sense to look at identity as something that is always there, but that changes and grows over time.

In this world, the ability to quickly unlearn and learn new things is very important. But in the same line of thinking it willl be as important to able to let parts of your identity go and quickly adopt new ones.

Wrapping up

Over the next days, I will try to use these guidelines and make some changes. Something that comes to my mind directily, is to erase some of the buzzwords and labels from my public profiles. That will also put more attention on the act of creating as a means to communicate what interests me.