#Yolo. I’m counting down to 30. Just a few months away…
Anyway. 30 has me thinking a lot. When look back and remember my 29th year, I’ll remember I spent it being preoccupied with the thought of being 30. But hey, it’s a milestone. Maybe it doesn’t matter. But, then again, maybe it does. The frontal lobe only reaches full maturity around the late 20’s. So something is changing on a fundamental level. Time to do something…productive.
I’ve become by the concept of the codex vitae. It comes from some science fiction book, where these people each record a book of life, containing all of their knowledge…I could’t finish the book (it’s terrible, written for infantalized millennials), but the concept of a codex vitae is a good one.
I will not be the same person in another 10 years. I write this blog first and foremost for myself. I hope to have this record to look back and think about it. I want to keep some kind of record, life is worth taking note of. Anyways, we tend to think we are always at the final version of ourselves, but it isn’t true. We will change more than we think. The next video explains.
TRDL: it’s basic point is that we have a poor concept of who we are over time, hence…keep a journal.
Since all good things come in three’s, I’m going to cram my codex vitae (for now) into three loose topics. This is hardly a complete list, but these are what I use to guide me right now.
The first – focus on doing rather than being.
I have spent a lot of mental energy over the last several years on what I want to be. It’s odd that people ask you “what do you do?”, and you respond “I am a…[job title]”. Ever notice that the verbs get switched?
To be or not to be? But the question everyone asks is about doing, not being. What do you do? While it is possible that we are say one thing and mean another, I contend that we are all, in fact, deeply confused (a philosophical conjecture I learned from Allain de Botton).
It’s so bad out there that self-help books on communication teach you to steer away from asking people this question altogether. Rather than asking “What do you do?”, they suggest, ask “What are you working on?” or “How do you spend your time?” Largely it’s to avoid talking directly about one another’s status. Maybe people are too fragile?
Ego. Narcissism. Pride. All of which, people tend to think as afflictions of other people. Why do we all think we are so much more virtuous than other people? But, it’s part of the human experience to be self-referential. You don’t have anything else to go with. Cogito ergo sum.
Identity is the individual playbook. Alan Watts says it pretty well between dramatic sips of tea.
Ryan Holiday’s book of stoicism recommends defining yourself minimally. Which is to say, we should not be compelled to do anything simply because we are “that type of person.”
“Oh, I’m a vanilla ice cream person.”
Someone who says this is missing out on the delicious balsamic blueberry flavour at the shop a few blocks from my apartment…and for what? Ego.
“I am open to all ice cream flavours.”
Still ego, but less strictly defined. Because the ego/identity is a set of stories you tell yourself about yourself.
Most of our battles are with ourselves.
-Maybe Mark Twain. Maybe Einstein. Maybe both. It’s probably printed on a shopping bag.
Consider the scale of the problem. There are many trillions of dollars exchanged for telling people what they want to hear. If you want to know the path to wealth, find out how you can capitalize on someone’s opinion of him/herself. Self-delusion is a real-life Eldorado.
Take for example, the basic Myers-Briggs and any of the many copy-cat derivatives. They ask people a series of preference-based questions. What do you “feel” is most “you”? Then they tell you a story about yourself. A clever story, all in the affirmative, never in the critical. This, they claim, is your personality type. Mostly the assessments are restatements/rewording of the same traits you identified with in the test. So the assessments often feel like playing the game two truths and a lie with yourself.
More careful studies of personality types have revealed that these Myers-Briggs are almost worse than random at predicting what people will actually do. Here’s an amusing article in Forbes about it. Todd Rose, in his book The End of Average, really tears it apart. We are better off understanding people in terms of “If / Then…” conditional situations. A person may be a social butterfly in her personal life, but incredibly shy at work, is she a introvert or an extrovert? Both! Neither! Whoops!
Maybe the truth is that personality types are just a garbage idea, a virus of the mind. And yet, because they are definitional stories, they get into our egos. How we think of ourselves. Our identity. They bleed into who we think we are. And yet, they aren’t even self-fulfilling prophesies. If they were, we would get the predictive power out of them, they would somehow translate into what we do. Instead, they tell us what we want to hear. $$Cha-ching!$$
Ok, I got a little off topic, the key idea is to figure out what concepts actually tell you about who you are. In a way, we like certain stories about ourselves, that we are ‘nice’, ‘decent’, etc… But these have to map to behaviour somehow. Because who you really are is based on your reputation, what you do. That is the you that people will remember.
For example, I used to (still do) like walking around saying “I don’t care about what people think!” It’s completely fictitious. It’s probably best understood as a form of self-comforting. It doesn’t translate into actual behaviour. If true, Then I would show up to work in the same state as when I stay home…old t-shirts and sweats. People who actually don’t give a fuck, we call them shameless. It’s pejorative.
Hypocrisy is bred from identity. Somehow everyone loves to travel, which is odd, because everyone likes to consider themselves environmentally conscious. What value is true? They should look at the cost/benefits to the environment of flying, you know, for what amounts to just amusement at the cost of environmental harm. You can’t have both.
It used to really boil me (still kind of does), when I considered the hypocrisy of people. But I’ve really started to grok what it means to “be without sin” and to “cast the first stone”. There are deep conflicting desires inside of all of us that pull us in multiple directions. A lot of what creates tension is the desire to be multi-dimensionally admirable, well-rounded people. We want to be things that cancel out what it means to be other things. By this nature, the road of identity leads to tragedy. Hence, the wisdom of minimal self-identity. It’s like not making promises you can’t keep, but to yourself.
There is more to being and doing. Think goal setting. Think I played the best hand with the cards I was dealt vs. I am the (GOAT) best poker player. You can be the best, but it doesn’t say anything about how you become the best. It says nothing about what you do. It’s a personal value to have esteem for results over process. To me it seems related to overt focus on being rather than doing.
Take something like athletics. You can set a goal of being the best-in-the-world swimmer. That is a goal to be something. What do you have to do?
You have to swim faster than Michael Phelps, at all distances. You have to swim faster than everyone, at all distances. How would you get there? Realistically…you would need a staff of world-class coaches. You would need to start young. You would need some help from your genetics somewhere along the line, a physical advantage. You would need someone to finance all of that training time. You would need to put all other activities in your life on hold, because they are now secondary to being the best….and what does it mean to be best at swimmer, anyway? I’m not going to try, because it is a concept that is nonsensical. To be undisputed, you have to win all conceivable competitions involving swimming, which is like specializing in everything. It’s an oxymoron.
Actually, stay with sports for a minute. The best stories about sports are the inspiring ones. The ones where people reach beyond a limit, prove something thought un-doable is doable. So…the doing, not the being. There is technically always somebody ranked as the best. But people don’t care. They only care when some record gets smashed, or a player is seriously dominant, or if there is an underdog. Sports stories are about the journey, not the result. The result grabs attention. The process (struggle) is what people write books or movies about.
To be continued…