Identity, change, and promises made to no one
What is this website about? Is it just about scripts and programming projects and my favorite vim plugins? What if I want to write about other things? What if the one thing this used to be about is not something I want to write about anymore? What if an idea I want to write about doesn’t fit with what I’ve been writing about recently?1
In my About page I say that I write about a mix of technical and non-technical topics. And yet, I reject writing ideas on a daily basis because they wouldn’t “fit” what this website’s been about. Is this good?
I think a similar dynamic happens in our personal lives. At some point we become “about” something. You’re a coder, a beauty vlogger, a photographer, a philosopher, a cyclist. You got interested in something and you went deep, did it consistently, got better, and enjoyed cultivating and projecting your interest in it. As your interest and engagement grew, it’s not just you that knows that you’re into this thing, people around you know it too, and they start to ask about your progress and enjoyment.
Over months and maybe years that thing becomes a consistent line drawn along other big and small things that change: where you live, what you do, the relationships you’ve been in. It’s part of your identity.
So it’s understandable that you would react negatively when you start to drift away from that thing. It happens slowly and you fight it. You start being interested in other things and you don’t spend as much time on the “thing” anymore. It’s not just you though, those around you also react with concern. “How come you’re not going out to ride your bike as much?”, “are you still talking to your philosophy friends?’, “how come you’re not posting your makeup videos as often as you used to?” Questions that presume that the current status is sad, forcing you to come up with explanations rather than reasons.
This is not straightforward to navigate because it runs into principles like “consistency”, “commitment”, and “stick-to-itiveness”, which we generally think are good.2 What does it say about your character that you lost interest in this thing after you made a big deal about it and others came to know you for it? Is it weakness on your part? Will you keep switching it up, becoming someone who’s difficult to nail down in your life and the lives of those around you? Who are you if not the photographer or the blogger or the beauty vlogger?
Years ago I wrote about changing our minds:
Overcoming your own internal barriers to changing your beliefs and principles is difficult enough without people from the outside giving you a hard time about it. Instead of this horrible tradition described above, people should be curious when others they know change their minds about things, ask them why, and criticize the reasons given or learn from them
Just like accusations of hypocrisy and flip-flopping make it harder than it already is for us to change our minds, this feeling that we promised something with our actions and history makes us feel guilty about change. The weird thing is, in a different partition of our minds, we believe change is good. In debates about whether people can really change, no matter which side you’re on when it comes to the possibility of people changing, you agree that it would be better if they could.
Yet when it’s time to change, even if you were to overcome the difficulty of it, now there’s this guilt-induced drag pulling you back, making you worry about breaking the image you have or the expectations that you and others have of you.
Let me walk this back just a little.
There is such a thing as not having stick-to-itiveness and dropping things at the first sign of difficulty.
What this post is about is the unreasonable feeling of not being able to change your primary interests out of a sense of obligation or shame. If you’re all in on photography this month, and all in on woodworking the next, and all in on painting the month after, maybe you do have a problem to deal with.
How do you know whether you’re trying to stick with something out of persistence and grit as opposed to obligation and shame? Only you can know; if you’re looking for easy answers, you’re reading the wrong blog.3 I’m only writing to tell you and myself that interests and identities can change, and promises about them should be made to no one.
Here’s a meta thought: this post about what this site is about goes against my idea of what this site is about. It’s navel-gazey in a way that violates my writing principles. ↩︎
Relax, I’m not here to be the “forget everything you know about everything we thought was good!” guy. Those are generally good. ↩︎
And there isn’t a right blog for easy answers. ↩︎