Before I deleted my LinkedIn account and then created a new one from scratch, I had a bunch of recommendations from people with whom I am no longer in contact.
I vividly remember one such recommendation, however, which described me as an ‘ideas hamster’. This was unexpected, but I saw it as a good thing. I shared that description of myself with a kind of pride. I owned it.
More recently, and particularly in the self-excavation I’ve been doing via therapy, I’ve come to see my constant need to move onto the next thing and work as fast as I can as a form of avoidance. After all, hamsters take exercise in wheels that, ultimately, go nowhere.
But if I’m not an ‘ideas hamster’, then… what am I? If the ability to rapidly generate new ideas is not my USP, then what value do I bring to the world?
Thankfully, the answer has been sitting in front of my the whole time. People regularly allude to my ability to connect together things in new and novel ways.
I’m happy with that. There is nothing, after all, new under the sun, meaning ‘my ideas’ have never been more than connecting together things differently. So it’s in this that I add value to the world, in my ability to synthesise and make sense of the world around me.
This post is Day 45 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com
Around 20 years ago, as part of my undergraduate degree in Philosophy, I took a module entitled Mind, Brain, and Personal Identity. The lecturer, George Botterill, a certified chess genius and extremely thoughtful guy, blew my mind by demonstrating via thought experiments that we can’t really be the same ‘person’ over a human lifetime.
We contain multitudes.
Ever since then, I’ve found this idea very liberating. I don’t have to be the same person I was when I was younger, I can choose to be different.
At the end of this year I turn 40. The worst of the pandemic will (hopefully) be over by then and I’ll also have finished most of my therapy sessions. As a result, it makes sense to think about how my pre-pandemic and post-pandemic life will differ.
For me, it’s worth remembering that Aristotle, perhaps one of the greatest thinkers ever to have lived, remained in Plato’s academy until he was almost 40 years of age. After this, he was tutor to Alexander the Great, and then wrote most of what he remembered for in the next 12 years.
I’m reminding myself of this, as there’s a tendency in our culture to think of people in their forties and later as being past their prime. That’s may be true in terms of physical prowess, but not in terms of things of lasting importance such as writing and thinking. Of course, I’m not putting myself in the same league as Aristotle(!) it’s just an illustrative example.
So I’m considering this time as a gestation period, as a time when I’m still in the chrysalis, waiting to emerge. I’m not sure what that’s going to look like in practice, but instead of looking back to being a caterpillar, I’m instead going to focus on turning into a butterfly.
Unlike the physical transformation that the caterpillar undergoes, my metamorphosis might be less obvious to those around me. Shifts in worldview and outlook sometimes are. But it’s an important thing to note for me: to give myself permission to let go of my pre-pandemic self.
This post is Day 37 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com
One of the things I find invidious about social media is the ‘norming’ that happens at scale. People are simultaneously performing for others and conforming to their status as member of a particular group.
Identity is important. It’s the way we understand the world around us and our place in it. It’s also a fluid construct that changes over time. That’s why groups have a vested interest in ensuring that either their members change to conform to a shared group identity (usually) or the shared group identity changes to reflect the times (rarely).
One way of thinking about group formation is in terms of customs and habits of that group, but also, as Michel de Montaigne’s best friend pointed out, voluntary servitude:
Nevertheless it is clear enough that the powerful influence of custom is in no respect more compelling than in this, namely, habituation to subjection.Etienne de La Boétie, The Politics of Obedience
We are all born into groups which define our reality, becoming habituated to the subjection imposed by them. Sometimes by accident, often due to some form of crisis, we find our way out of them and discover a world we didn’t previously know existed.
Let us therefore admit that all those things to which he is trained and accustomed seem natural to man and that only that is truly native to him which he receives with his primitive, untrained individuality. Thus custom becomes the first reason for voluntary servitude. Men are like handsome race horses who first bite the bit and later like it, and rearing under the saddle a while soon learn to enjoy displaying their harness and prance proudly beneath their trappings. Similarly men will grow accustomed to the idea that they have always been in subjection, that their fathers lived in the same way; they will think they are obliged to suffer this evil, and will persuade themselves by example and imitation of others, finally investing those who order them around with proprietary rights, based on the idea that it has always been that way.Etienne de La Boétie, The Politics of Obedience
As I approach 40, I’m determined to check ways in which I’m acting in ways that could be considered servile. And remove them from my life.
This post is Day 23 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com