May 10, 2009


Not too long ago someone I know wrote a post about identity and the question, "Who are you?" He says that our usual answer to this question is first our name, and then our occupation; he then goes to say that this answer is wrong.

After reading this, I found myself asking the same question - Who am I? No, who am I really? Rob? Well, yes, but a name is simply a label used to identify you. Kinda like a variable in your code if you named your variables Valerie or Steve or something - which would make for horrible programs, maybe we should all name our children when they're 20 or something after what they do, like Makes-Good-Hot-Chocolate or something. Those native peoples had something going there.

However after a fair bit of thought on the matter, I inevitably came to the thought, "Well, if I'm trying to figure out who I am, what is identity?" That is another slightly tricky one to put your finger on. Fortunately I went on vacation last week, so I had plenty of time to sit around and ponder.

I came to the following answer, feel free to debate: your identity is defined by what do you and/or what you believe. It is a collection of what I'll call "identity elements". I am a professional software programmer - why? Because I program software professionally. I am an amateur software programmer - I write code in my spare time for no real reason other than to see what happens. I make wine, play guitar; I believe in mostly free markets and science. I could go on like this for a long time. The accumulation of these identity elements is what makes up your identity.

It gets more complicated than that: some identity elements have more weight to them. Which of these elements has the higher weights is heavily influenced by your society and consequently (most of the time) the weight that you yourself apply to them. In Canada and most of the Western world it seems that your job has a higher weight than what you do Saturday nights - although if you do really weird things on your Saturday nights then perhaps that will more heavily influence the weight of that element, but then again "weird" is also defined by the society in which you live.

When you find that your identity is not really what you want it to be, then you're at a bit of an identity crisis. Maybe this crisis is better defined as lack of job satisfaction, boredom, feeling like you're not doing anything with your life, who knows. They're all pretty much rooted in the same thing.

So what to do? I suppose I'll play expert on this topic for a little while, although I am far from the ideal person to do so. I'd say look at these identity elements and see what you can do to affect the ones that you are not happy with. If you are not enjoying your job, why not try and figure out why? See what you can do to change it.
Sometimes you can't do anything to change these major aspects. Maybe you can't just quit your job, or change your significant other, or move to a new city (or maybe you can and you're just telling yourself you can't). In this case, it is important for your mental health to turn to the other elements of your identity and focus on improving those - and oftentimes it is much easier to change those than in the larger elements.

Rereading this, I noticed that part of this is about attaching yourself to some label(s). Many people believe that removing these labels is a good thing - reminds me of high school with the "anti-conformist" kids who shunned labels and sheeplike behaviour, meanwhile all of them seemed to be moving in the same direction and doing what each other was doing; all they did was trade one label in for another.
I don't think that these labels are completely bad, the important part is simply realizing what the labels are and arranging your labels in a way that satisfies you.

Keep in mind that change takes time. If you want to change your job, it is not a good idea to just drop it and quit (I've sorta done this, not a good idea!), instead just keep going, searching while you're working, or if you really hate it maybe save up some cash so that you can spend some time looking for a new job without worrying too much about finances.
Set goals for yourself and work to attain those goals. Don't expect them to be attainable immediately, and don't despair when it seems like your goals are so far away that they are out of reach. When I graduated from university I had lots of debt - maybe not as much as some people I know, but it certainly seemed like a lot to me. My goal was to pay that down as soon as possible, and not too long ago I did (yay!). Now I have new goals - finish studying! Learn French!

Perseverance is the key to attaining your goals. I know it is hard, but the rewards when you complete those goals are well worth the effort. Thanks for reading.


Michael Mol said...

Likely related to this. One of the best episodes of Babylon 5.

Michael Mol said...

Well, darn. I didn't even notice he linked to the same Youtube video I linked to. :)