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The self identity trap

I grew up playing a lot of music. My dad is a folk musician, so we grew up in a house where there was always music in the air. Every Sunday my Dad’s best friends came over and they would play beautiful ballads and drink wine until the wee hours of the morning. It was a stunning way to grow up.

I loved it, and took to it very quickly. I played all sorts of instruments throughout junior and high school, and eventually started to focus on percussion. It was the 90s, and grunge was the thing, so I started a (literal) garage band with some friends, and we screamed like Kurt Cobain and beat drums to soothe our teenage angst.

My early studies were in music, and I eventually moved to London to work at Drum Cafe. I was playing music and facilitating drum circles for corporate companies, but my boss wanted me to get involved in the business side as well. He encouraged me to help out with logistics, marketing, client relationships and much more. I found myself absolutely loving the business-side of things, but an inner resistance was rising up inside me.

In my mind, I was a musician. This defined me and I was proud of who I was and what I stood for. I was a creative, and artist, an alternative… how on earth could I be enjoying the business side? It was wrong, it was a contradiction, it was inconsistent with my tightly defined identity. I couldn’t possibly “sell out” to the corporate machine.

As it turns out, as a result of playing music for so many years I ended up developing tinnitus, which is a perpetual ringing in your ears which (at least in my case) results from noise damage. I can clearly remember sitting with the audiologist when he told me, “you could continue playing music, but you’ll be deaf in 4 years.”

My world fell apart. Everything I had done up until that point had been in support of my identity as a musician, and now that was gone. No, not just gone, ripped away from me. What on earth was I going to do now?

I had a rough few months after that. I worked odd jobs, and tried desperately to find work which fitted some of the criteria I had set for myself. Eventually I ran out of options, and my friend who worked in recruitment managed to get me a job at Vodaphone selling cell phones in Paddington Station. The fall from grace was epic, but I needed a job and this is what was available. I know very little about cell phones, so my first day on the floor was interesting to say the least. What was interesting, though, is that I actually really enjoyed engaging with customers, and in doing so would try everything possible to avoid talking about phones, and rather get them to talk about themselves. It turns out people love talking about themselves, and they felt a strong sense of connection with me as a result. I sold a lot of phones, but again, I felt the resistance rising in me. I was an alternative, and here I was selling cell phones - what a cop out!

This process went on for a few more years, a few more jobs, as I embraced a few more layers of resistance. Over time, I realized that my fundamental resistance to embracing these emergent aspects of my personality was because I had created an extremely rigid definition of self. My identity was set at an early age, and my job was to behave and work in a manner which was consistent with that definition. It took me years to realize that my personality and identity are not fixed. Rather, my capacity is emergent, and I have the opportunity to curiously and playfully engage with it throughout my life.

Most of us have a closet bursting with limiting self beliefs and identities that we hold on to. Have you ever found yourself saying any statements along these lines:

- I’m not good at maths

- I’m not comfortable speaking in public

- I don’t like taking risks

- I don’t like cats

- I don’t fit in at corporate companies

- I'm not into camping

We tell ourselves these sorts of things over and over again until they eventually become welded into the armour which we present to the world. It’s easy for these sorts of beliefs to feel like eternal truths, when in fact, they’re just stories that we've told ourselves so many times that they take on the illusion of being solid.

In my own life story, I eventually realized that my tightly held sense of self identity wasn’t serving me, and I cast it aside. I then opened myself up to new possibilities, with an open and enquiring mind as to what I could become.

Next time you catch yourself saying things like, “that’s just how I am”, my encouragement to you is to stop everything and take a good hard look in the mirror. To think that you already know who you are is either arrogant or naive. I'm not suggesting that you throw everything about yourself out the window, but at the very least, when you make a limiting statement or find yourself thinking a limiting thought, as yourself, "is this serving me?"

Who knows what you could become if you removed your self imposed limitations and definitions of self.


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