It is so easy to become defined by what you do. Or worse, by what you dream of doing. It seems only natural. In our society we place a great emphasis on how we earn our livings. It appears almost to be our function both in society and on a deeper more metaphysical level.
To me, this is a dangerous trap.
When you define yourself by what you do, or what you hope to do, you become a slave to external conditions in the market place – you become dependent on the people who have the power to enable you to perform your dream job – and when, in times as we all do, you find yourself doing something other than what you would like to be doing in order to pay the rent and eat regularly, you suffer a major blow to your sense of self and sense of esteem.
By identifying your career as your essential identity you have neglected to see yourself as the valuable independent human being that you really are. That is something no one can ever take away from you.
I struggled with questions of identity a great deal in high school – like many teenagers. It was around that time I started thinking about college, about careers, and about life in general. I was confronting basic questions –
Am I an actor? Am I an director? Am I an artist?
But these are houses built on the sand. They are not things one can be but rather things that one can do. Worse than that, they are things that one can do that are entirely dependent on conditions outside of the self in order to do them.
The problem that this poses to a person whose identity is based on an activity that they enjoy and hope to make money learning and doing is that they can be denied this, not only for strictly unjust reasons but for perfectly acceptable and ethically sound reasons.
So naturally, basing your identity on something you would like to do that also requires the consent of the market economy is a very dangerous thing. What then is the solution?
Well I think foundationally you have to try and make peace with finding the fundamentals of your identity first and foremost in your own humanness.
You are an experiencing, thinking, loving, human being. You are filled with infinite potential. You are capable of changing the world. You are existing in a present moment. You have infinite things to be grateful for. You have the opportunity to manifest your values and beliefs in the form of action every moment of the day.
The basic harnessing of these facts is a way of coming to terms with the basics of our experience of life as the true fact of your human identity.
But there is a fundamental yearning for purpose in human beings.
We need to find meaningful ends by which we can channel our action.
In this regard I think it is important that we find a kind of “function” that can never be taken away from us. This function isn’t tied to a role in the market economy. It is fluid. While it is not monetarily beneficial, it can be fulfilled through work, or through play. For me, I decided many years ago that at my core I needed to see myself first and foremost as an “explorer of the world and a celebrator of life.”
Obviously that doesn’t pay the rent or put food on my table. Having accepted my basic human nature as my identity and having accepted a foundational function as my purpose – a purpose that can never be taken away from me – I am now free to pursue other ends that can parallel and compliment my fulfillment of this more abstract purpose.
I can be comfortable pursuing temporary jobs and roles in the market economy in order to enable the pursuit of my more abstract purpose. I can even seek out an ideal career or craft (writing, directing, storytelling) as the ideal way of fulfilling my secure abstract purpose.
The key here is that my identity is not based in something that is separate from me. I may be disappointed if the ends I seek do not come to fruition in a particular venture or project but I won’t have that soul crushing feeling that who I am as a person has been invalidated.
Maybe it seems like an imagined trap for those who have never grappled with it. I know there were times when I was younger where I lusted after some dream. So much energy would be poured into that pursuit. When the world wouldn’t conform to the shape that I expected it to become I would be wracked with fear. This basic fear was a realization that the rejection of some project of mine by the world felt like a rejection of me.
Of course this isn’t true. It is a lie that comes from believing that you are the thing you are pursuing. Whether it is a dream career, the affirmation of your peers, the love of a particular woman.
Finding your identity in external things is a dangerous road. Chase your dreams. Chase your exciting adventures. Just don’t lose your-self in them.
You will always be a valuable, experiencing, incredible, human being – the living consciousness of the universe. That is a pretty astounding fact. One that no failed adventure can ever steal from you – unless you let it.