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I Am Nothing and Also Something
Most of my friends growing up had the same hair style: long bangs, swiped across the forehead. The style is often paired with boat shoes, Costa Del Mars, and golf shirts. Brodie Croyle and John Parker Wilson both have vintage “Southern Swoops.”
I have a version of the swoop.
Like the dropping of R’s from “Harvard Yard”, bangs over the forehead give away people’s childhoods. Dressing and talking are identities. Identities grant access to tribes.
The problem with identities is all the maintenance. It’s like trying to trim all the bushes in the Biltmore gardens. Endless.
However far you can run, somebody can run further. However much Vonnegut you’ve read, somebody has read all his books and essays and personal letters. However many fish you have caught, somebody has caught more and has epic stories to tell about all of them.
If somebody sacrifices even more for their kids than you, are you a bad parent? If you take a day off work, are you a bad entrepreneur?
Exhausting. So I swore them off. “I Am Nothing,” I pronounced in the words of Paul Buccheit.1
I like this viewpoint. Seneca and Marcus Aurelius and Munger teach others how to reduce the surface area of their identities. I am me, nothing more.
But recently I discovered a positive use case for identities.
If you’re standing in front of the fridge and trying to avoid packaged food, ask yourself, “What would a healthy person eat?”
If you’ve got a pile of Amazon boxes and you’re sick of tripping over them, ask yourself, “What would an organized person do?”
James Clear suggests using identity in this way in Atomic Habits. Our human brains try very hard to be consistent. By defining who we want to be, we can drive our behavior.
If we tell ourselves we are studious before deciding how to spend our time, we’re more likely to read Slaughterhouse Five than to binge Schitt’s Creek.
Here goes nothing: I am disciplined.