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Ask yourself honestly, “Where’s my identity?” If you find your sense of self invested in one or just a few aspects of life, you’re putting yourself at a greater risk for a major emotional and psychological setback.
Let’s face it, as much as we’d like for life to be simple, complexity and/or diversity are inevitable realities that are part of it. Add uncertainty as well. And to live this so-called life, investing yourself in many areas puts you in a better position. By investing your identity in many different aspects of life, you’re more likely to hold up emotionally and psychologically. At the same time, on top of being able to face stressful life situations, this allows you to better relate and adapt to what is new or unfamiliar that comes along your way.
Author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss proposes that:
“It’s also smart to diversify your identity, to invest your self-esteem and what you care about into a variety of different areas — business, social life, relationships, philanthropy, athletics — so that when one goes south, you’re not completely screwed over and emotionally wrecked.”
To focus on one or just a few aspects of ourselves is not healthy in the long run. Further, focusing on getting a sense of contentment, validation, or self-esteem from one source is not wise as we tend to overidentify ourselves in just one aspect and forget that there’s a lot more to who we are.
For one, childhood traumas play a role. It’s like a student being teased at one point in high school for being poor that all he ever did was work hard at earning a lot of money, but he actually has more to him than just making money. Or perhaps a girl who used to be teased for being ugly and eventually bloomed but has since become obsessed with looks while disregarding a lot of good qualities that she has or could have developed.
Then comes the bankruptcy, and he loses it. And as the girl gets older and her beauty fades, she too eventually loses it. They both ended up losing their sole or limited sense of identity, and thus in the process, their own sense of security and self-esteem.
Another one: girl committed herself to a selfish asshole, but since she loved him, she gave all of herself to him. She sacrificed a lot of her time, even her social life. She answered to all of his demands while forgetting her own needs. In the long run, her sense of self has been mainly on him. The guy then cheats, and the typical CSI storyline happens: she shoots him, burns his house down, or gets really mad and cuts off his penis — not just once but twice. If she only had a life other than being with a man child, it’d be much likelier that she would see differently.
Now, expanding on the first example, let’s say you grew up without a lot of money and seeing your parents struggle to pay the bills. A situation such as this can set you up to focus on the idea that making money is the only thing that matters. Then several years down the line, you find that you can’t even hold an honest conversation because you eventually forgot what it means to be human. But then you say you have money anyway, sticking to it for it’s all you know and have, in spite of the rejection brought on by the lack of human connection. Then your business fails, and you start to entertain suicide, like many wealthy individuals after the financial crisis of 2008, or perhaps you begin to entertain doing crazy stuff such as ripping off people with their money.
We see this kind of overidentification problem among athletes and celebrities who couldn’t let go of what they had as soon as they retired. The big breaks or the major movies have come to an end, then their life spiral downwards, and they simply become bitter or commit suicide. And it’s all because they invested most of their identity on their career.
Parents, who revolve their lives just on their kids, fall into the same problem. Sure, it’s understandable that their kids are their everything. But it doesn’t mean they are literally their everything. They still owe it to themselves to invest in other aspects of life than being too nosy, secretly read their kids’ diaries, monitor, and even control their behavior. Then, when their kids finally grow up and leave, they become miserable and fall into depression.
Social pressures are in play as well. For example, a big part of a lot of Asian cultures can be so obsessed with “perfection,” especially in academics (thus the stereotype for Asian Americans). In South Korea, suicide rates are now spiking among students due to the high level of competitiveness brought on by their system of education. It’s all about school for them. Another “perfection obsession” is brought on by the standards of marrying and having a family. There’s this social pressure to keep a “perfect family” image. This reminds me of a story a good friend of mine once shared with me. She had met someone in Los Angeles who was clearly having a lot of shame issues and difficulty forming relationships after going through a divorce, because from where the person came from in Asia (I forgot the exact country), separation is considered unacceptable and even shameful.
You can also include your beliefs and how you identify with them. As I’ve written before, when one ties oneself dangerously to just a few sets of beliefs, it can lead to harming others and having difficulty to adapt because new perspectives cannot be reconciled or integrated, especially contradicting ones which could actually be helpful. Imagine if you’re some dude and have identified yourself way too much with the belief that the earth is flat but then is disproved, you’re more likely to deny it and do other crazy stuff to reconcile such contradiction.
You can choose to grow old, get grumpy, and continue to live a monotonous and one-sided life believing you have already figured out yourself or the way for everyone. You can choose to get stuck watching Fox news while expressing your anger or bitterness about a past you couldn’t reconcile (for if only you wish you didn’t play it safe) as you blame your burnt dinner, your misery, your chaotic love life, and just about everything else on a guy named Obama.
Or you can choose to challenge yourself, explore more about yourself, and anything beyond the bubble you find yourself in.
Embracing uncertainty is an important piece of the puzzle in developing a diversified identity. Overidentification to one or very few aspects of life is another product of wanting to be certain or wanting to be sure or safe. Too often, uncertainty is associated with negativity, such as doubt, being irresponsible, or a failure, and is often avoided instead of being welcomed. Embracing uncertainty doesn’t mean irresponsibility or failure. Rather, by embracing uncertainty, you are acknowledging that you can’t know or fully perfect everything in one go after doing your due diligence.
We forget that being certain doesn’t necessarily lead to success or guarantee the outcome that is wanted.
A lot of great things, including happiness, do actually happen out of uncertainties. A lot of bad things happen due to decisions based on certainty or wanting to always be sure. Embracing uncertainty is needed because it’s how your life can expand, you see things you never knew, and you can truly grow; it teaches you to be patient and resilient. Certainty, on the other hand, only allows you to stay in one space or with what is familiar, thus it limits you. Certainty consequently puts you in danger, leaving you forever the same or even going backwards.
It’s probably still crawling somewhere. We heard that they can survive a nuclear or atomic extinction.
This is where the problem comes in which one’s life and time just revolves around a job for the sake of financial certainty or security. He or she is in a higher risk of being depressed, committing suicide if laid off, or no longer being able to keep up with the demands of the job because that’s where all his or her identity was invested in. This is why in spite of increasing income from a stable job, it doesn’t necessarily mean one will be able to diversify his or her identity and be happy.
Robert Kiyosaki, the famous author of Rich Dad Poor Dad, makes the case about certainty or financial security as one strives for freedom through entrepreneurship by using “maximum security“ as an example. He said that if you want security and nothing to worry about, a maximum security jail facility is always there for you. You have no bills to pay, rent is free, and there’s always food.
The conventional belief is that the more work hours, the better it will be for the whole organization. But we are now faced with the reality that more work hours doesn’t automatically equate to improved productivity or even a happy worker. As a lot of studies are emerging to improve a worker’s mojo, the so-called work-life balance, and better understand what makes a fascinating kick ass worker, we’re now introduced to a lot of radical concepts in reducing work hours. The 40-hour work week is now being challenged. For starters, there are now companies implementing four-day work weeks. The second richest man in the world, Carlos Slim, pushes it further as he strongly supports a 3-day work week.
This may sound like overselling it. You can still keep that job, especially if you love it. This is not even about entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is not the answer for everything. Entrepreneurs do fall into the trap of not diversifying their identities as well. To each their own. The point is, you must have other things apart from your job or business to invest your identity in.
So now, does it mean for you to start doing a lot of things and go “YOLO” all the way? Of course not; too much of anything is bad. You can’t just keep adding up and do a lot of things. You can’t stretch yourself too much. You can’t stretch yourself way too thin. In doing these things, you risk losing your core cohesive self.
Don’t fall into the trap of doing and being a lot of things but still getting your source of contentment from just one. Just because you have a lot of things going on doesn’t mean you’re genuinely invested in each of them. You need to be truly invested in each role or activity you put yourself in and derive a strong validation from each. To expand requires a strong core, depth, and cohesion.
The interesting thing with a lot of personality disorders is that they deal in big part with the regulation of the sense of self, from simple to complex ones. For instance, the Disassociative Identity Disorder, which Jaqen H’ghar has in the Game of Thrones, is no longer called Multiple Personality Disorder, for it’s not about the many personalities; the problem is the lack of a unique unified identity due to the disassociation or the lack of integration of personalities. In Narcissistic Personality Disorder, it is said to deal with the destruction of the core true self due to the reliance on a false self that it results or leads to fragmentation and the disorganization of the whole self. Borderline Personality Disorder is likelier for someone who has a low diversified self. The takeaway is in finding balance while remaining whole and building around the very core of who you are.
Ask yourself who you are. Ask yourself what matters to you. Begin and expand from them as you try out new things. And as you invest yourself in different areas of life, you’ll be surprised to see in the process a lot of parallels and connections among varying areas of life.
You don’t have to figure out the grand unifying theory of the universe. But if you’re starting to find yourself anxious, depressed, irritable, angry, and wanting to do more, chances are your life is declining or flat lining. You must take a step back. Then you better start writing and crossing out that bucket list before that prolonged and controlled sameness of yours ruins you.