“I’m a musician.”
I used to define myself that way. When people asked what I “did,” and if the context wasn’t obviously asking about my day job, that’s how I would respond.
Music was such an integral part of my life for so long that I said I was a musician. Notice what I had done there? I was using an equality statement, a definition. I am, first person singular of the verb to be.
The problem with this is that when you equate yourself with a role your identity becomes tied to that role. If/when that role changes or goes away, you will experience a loss of identity. When I stopped playing music, I ceased “to be”. Uh oh.
The problem with tying your identity to your pursuits
Let’s say that you call yourself “a writer.” And then one day you find that you can no longer write anything, or no longer have the desire to write anything. If that happens, by nature of the equality that you’ve set up about yourself, you are now “nothing.” You have lost your identity.
Has this ever happened to you? I can tell you that it’s not pretty to feel like you are “nothing.” I don’t wish that on anyone. When I stopped playing music, the association had become so entrenched in my mind that I wasn’t really sure that there was anything else inside me. Can you imagine this? We, who are so full of interests and desires and thoughts and dreams, and yet here I was, feeling like there was nothing to me. It sounds crazy, but it’s real. And I bet you’ve fallen into this trap before to some degree.
Luckily, there is an easy way around this potential loss of identity. And while it’s a mental trick, that’s the best part, as it doesn’t require you doing anything except changing how you speak and how you think about yourself:
Stop talking about what you “are” and start talking about what you “do”.
Do you play music? Great, then say that. “I play music. I write songs.” Do you write? “I write short stories.” Do you paint? “I paint.”
You are large, you contain multitudes
Do you see how that sounds different from “I am a musician/writer/painter”? Do you see how that feels different? Not only does that save you from being defined by a thing that you do, but it also frees you up to be many different things. When you no longer say that you “are” what you do, you can do lots of things. You can experiment. You can play. You can make mistakes. And all of this is good. After all, chances are you enjoy doing more than one thing. I think that’s healthier, at least. “I hike, run, sing, write, and make terrible jokes.” Or whatever your various combination of interests are today. And now you have room to have your interests grow and change and develop over time without them being tied to your identity. Because your identity isn’t a collection of your pursuits and interests. Thankfully, you are more complicated than that.
But enough about me. How have you changed how you define yourself?