“You people always hold onto old identities, old faces and masks, long after they’ve served their purpose.
But you’ve got to learn to throw things away eventually.”
Death, in “Sandman: Dream Country”, by Neil Gaiman
I’m still reminded occasionally of the article by David Wong I recommended at the beginning of the year, especially the need for defining oneself via actions and not via self-given attributes.
There are a lot of beautiful quotes which go in the same direction, from judging others:
As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.
to judging yourself:
Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold – but so does a hard-boiled egg.
Hell, you can even go Harry Potter on it:
“Yet the Sorting Hat placed you in Gryffindor. You know why that was. Think.”
“It only put me in Gryffindor,” said Harry in a defeated voice, “because I asked not to go in Slytherin …”
“Exactly,” said Dumbledore, beaming once more. “Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
“Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” by J.K. Rowling
I think there is a lot of wisdom in that, because, let’s face it, you can claim to be anything.
But looking at actual actions means that you
- actually do something
(Your creativity is in what you do, not in what you “are”.), and
- have a basis to evaluate whether you achieve your goal
(Echoing a bit this posting.).
The downside is that this … critical self-examination might put you in the position where you face a harsh, cold light and see all your imperfections and self-delusions. And that can be shattering. It can put you in the place where you have to decide of whether you want to continue to “be yourself”, which means to see yourself in a certain, deluded way when you consider the actions and evaluate them — or whether you need to change some deeply held things about yourself. And the later can feel like a betrayal. Some people might even resonate with Lucien’s words in Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman”:
“Sometimes, perhaps, one must change or die. And, in the end, there were, perhaps, limits to how much he could let himself change.”
Lucien in “Sandman” by Neil Gaiman
However, what really changes? It is still your old self that calls the shots, that demands the change. You did not give up on yourself, you did some self-examination and were courageous enough to change yourself and take the consequences. You enable yourself to change yourself. You face up that what you are currently doing is not getting you what you want or where you want to be. And, like heart-achingly beautiful put by Beatrice Venier in “Dangerous Beauty”, about the way here daughter is going to be socialized in 16th century Venice:
“She’ll grow up just like her mother. Marry, raise children and honor her family. Spend her youth in needlepoint and rue the day she was born a girl. And when she dies, she’ll wonder why she obeyed all the rules of God and Country for no biblical hell could ever be worse than a state of perpetual inconsequence.”
Beatrice Venier in “Dangerous Beauty”
And yup, perhaps nothing is worse than being of no consequence. Although there are some limits, ethical limits for example. There are usually multiple ways to change something, and taking an unethical “shortcut” is never a good idea.
But if you do not achieve … or get what you want, looking at one’s actions and changing what you do might be a good idea. Even if you have to change deeply held perceptions of yourself. Even if you do things you would never have thought you might do — whether it’s leaving a discipline, or a town, or a partner, or even your misgivings about certain foods, sports, or medical drugs.
In any case, it’s likely going to be a bumpy ride. You encounter new situations where you do not know how to act, try out behaviors in which you are not yet skilled, it will drain resources and energize you. Don’t take yourself too seriously (even considering the fact that this is about your life).
Because after some time, if it works out well, it might have been a drastic step, but you might find yourself more happy, and … of more consequence.