identify yourself

Recently I’ve been dabbling in online communities and garnering information for a long gestating idea of mine around community.

It feeds in to the creative project that I’ve actually finished - my book. I just need to actually do the final formatting and get it out there.

As a result of some new work i’ve been doing and the doubtless overwhelming attention that I’ll receive upon publishing my musings, I’ve developed the overwhelming urge to redo my website.

After having some work fall through that would have taken me abroad for a period of time, I’ve been ramping up what I was doing in the first place and have some exciting freelance projects to be a part of. I want to make clear who I serve in this respect and update the information on my book, hence the need for a revamp of my current site.

This lead to a stumbling block that no-one else in the whole world would even notice. I’ve suddenly been hit with a wave of big decisions that are big to no-one but me.

What exactly am I offering? Is it too broad? Is it not broad enough? Does it reflect who I am and what I want?

This is the classic emotional arrogance that we all carry to some extent. In a book club I’m participating in, we discussed how quick we are to claim a narrative as ‘ours’ - the confirmation bias of explaining our own predicament is too tempting and we lunge at any opportunity for self definition, for a convenient explanation of our story.

After I detailed my thoughts on this, one of the other participants came in:

I'm reviewing my highlights from last week and realizing how quickly I inserted the concepts into my current situation. It's like I was looking for something to box and simplify my feelings, which of course made me feel better!

It’s absolutely normal for us to do this when we consume art. I was amused recently when, after reading Range and listening to some podcasts with the author David Epstein, he detailed how he’d debated Malcolm Gladwell on the competing theses of their two books.

Although he was nervous of Gladwell’s intelligence and potential annoyance at having a cornerstone piece of his career refuted, Gladwell was friendly, funny and great company and the two hit it off. It seems he has a light attachment to his theorising and doesn't take an attack on his ideas or work was an attack on him. An admirable quality to have.

Epstein said that he received far greater pushback from other people attached to Gladwell’s Outliers/10,000 hours theory, notably Times journalist Matthew Syed.

Syed has essentially taken Gladwell’s Outliers theory and run with it, using it to explain his own excellence as a table tennis player and then building upon the same narrative to kick-start his career as a writer. If you keep up with Syed’s work, this theory has provided the backdrop and justification for his personal, sporting and professional experiences.

No wonder he felt affronted when Epstein proved is an inadequate explanation. If you align your identity too closely with something as ephemeral as someone else’s idea, you’re in danger of having your very bedrock shaken if that idea dissipates in front of you.

This is a roundabout way of saying that we should wear our identities a little more lightly or take care to attach them to firmer and more corporeal things. Perhaps our behaviour and our habits are what give us our identity rather than a meta-narrative that doesn’t belong to us.

Write your own story rather than claiming the framework of someone else’s.

And don’t fuss so much over a fucking website.

Ben Mercer