Identity is a Timeline of Tendencies
I am not who you think I am. You’ve gotten a glimpse of me through the things I say and do that you’ve witnessed. But those things are not me. Like you, I have no single, fixed identity. All I have are “tendencies,” which is what I call the inclinations of each aspect of an ever-changing identity, drawn from all realms of possibility. These tendencies — which manifest through declarations, and more so through activities — are what inspire momentary impressions of me. Including my own.
At one moment, you may have known me by my long beard and interest in graphic design. But since we last spoke, I trimmed that beard and pursued different interests. During the past week, for instance, I meditated daily, completed an underpainting, juggled, played guitar, made a donation, ran a local trail, and wrote this piece. By performing these activities and sharing them with you, I evolved my former identity. I am now someone who does the things I mentioned — strengthening their standing as identifying tendencies each time I do them. To paraphrase James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, each activity I performed cast a vote for the being I am becoming.
Or, at least, a vote in favor of the being I want to be. For we all have to negotiate with a self that is capable of great healing or harm. Each moment presents an opportunity to choose our place on that spectrum. Where we land more often than not is the essence of our tendency for a given characteristic. If I want to be and be perceived as a person with a “good” tendency, I need to act with compassion toward people and planet. If I want to excel at painting, I need to develop that skill by learning techniques, taking courses, and painting as much as possible. If I want to improve a certain tendency, like negativity, then I’ll work on noticing it in myself and transforming it more quickly when it enters my thoughts.
The more aligned I can be with tendencies that signal positive values, the more I can continue on that trajectory and inspire others to do the same. However, I’m certain that I haven’t always acted in accordance with the values I have now. Which means that there are people who would disregard what I’m saying because of a past interaction. Much as I feel I’ve improved myself, I can’t force that change in perception. So I must accept that part of my identity will always include contradictory aspects, or counter-tendencies.
I also have to accept that everyone knows and thinks different things about me. If you’ve read up to this point, you may know a bit more and think a bit differently than you did before. But other people won’t know what you know, so for them, my tendencies will seem unchanged. There are likely thousands, possibly millions, of me-mories. From family and friends to split-second observers, each person has drawn from their personal experiences to assess how I appear to them.
Ultimately, I am not who I think I am. Beyond my own beliefs about myself, I’m an accumulation of shifting, subjective truths — from myriad viewpoints over which I have no control. I can only project an image so far before it dissolves into someone else’s lifetime of personal experience. I’ll just keep doing what I do and being who I am, recognizing that you’re just trying to do the same.