Not By Any Other Name

For so long I struggled with a question of identity. Actually, struggle is the wrong word, because I wasn’t thinking about the issue at all, but by virtue of not thinking about the issue, I was missing out.

Okay, that’s vague as hell. Let me try again. Self-perception is a big deal. Not so much in thinking of yourself as a big deal (although I guess that’s maybe not a bad thing now and then), but I mean just the way you think of yourself in general. The way you define yourself matters.

Sounds obvious, right? But it’s the simple truths that are the most powerful. For a long, long time, I thought of myself in a really negative way. Not actively — I didn’t sit around thinking to myself: “I’m a loser, I’m never going to amount to anything, I might as well just not try.” But that perception was lurking in the back of my mind nonetheless. I hadn’t amounted to anything, so I didn’t know that I ever would amount to anything. I had aspirations, but I had no confidence that I could achieve them, so I didn’t bother even thinking of myself as being on that track.

Case in point: Writing. I always wanted to write, but the idea of actually writing a book felt so insurmountable I just took it for granted that I could never get it done. Without really thinking about it, then, I named myself not-a-writer. By the same token, I could define myself by virtually any yardstick you could think of. Not-an-astronaut. Not-a-millionaire. Not a super-genius. But there’s only so much you can learn about a thing by determining what it isn’t, and that goes for yourself, too.

So, a little over a year ago, I decided to try something different. I told myself, you’re going to try being a writer. And so I started thinking of myself as a writer. And lo and behold, I suddenly found myself more committed than ever to writing well and productively and regularly. Well, that was pretty cool, so I started thinking of myself as other things, just to see what effect it would have on me. I never thought of myself as much of a dad, but now and then lately I remind myself, you’re a dad now, and I find myself being just a little more conscientious with my kids.

I’m willing to bet that this works with almost anything, because as good as we are at fooling ourselves about life in a direction that hurts us (I’ve got plenty of time for that project, or a few extra cookies won’t hurt), we can fool ourselves in a positive direction, too.

So, this post is to remind myself that I’m a writer. And a runner. And a dad and a husband. And a teacher. And a thinker. And a goofball and a nerd and a reader and a slew of other things. Positive things.

The names we give ourselves, I think, become the names we make for ourselves. So pick good ones.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.

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