Being all I can be, whatever that may be

Question of the day – where’s the balance between accepting who you are and pursuing paths that leverage that identity, and striving to be a different person? I was writing email to a friend last night and made the claim that a lack of self-acceptance drives American culture, from our dieting crazes to our willingness to spend ourselves into massive debt to fortify our self-worth with material goods. And yet, complacency and full acceptance of one’s faults and shortcomings would lead to stagnation. As always, there’s got to be a balance, but sometimes it’s tough to find.

To take the personal case, as always, one of my strengths is my ability to come up almost instantaneously with theories and comments and thoughts in response to others’ theses. I am most comfortable in a Greek chorus type role, commenting on the action, but not necessarily leading it. In email conversations, livejournal comments, even real conversations, I’ll come up with theory after theory in response to others. But place me on the spot and say “Be interesting and witty”, and I go completely blank. That’s true even of this blog. If you go back and look, you’ll find that most of the posts start off with “I was talking/IMing/emailing a friend and…”

Back to the original question. Do I accept this tendency in myself, and find ways to nurture it and pursue it (e.g. move towards becoming a pundit)? Or do I strive to be a different person, the methodical deep-thinker that could write the book on cognitive subroutines I’ve posited? Or is this a false dichotomy? Could I be that deep-thinker if I just applied myself, and worked hard? Is this really part of my identity, or am I just rationalizing wildly in an attempt to be lazy?

It extends to all aspects of life. As previously noted, I tend towards being a generalist. Broad but shallow knowledge, rather than the deep focused knowledge that I might gain in a PhD program. There are some ways in which that focus might make me more employable. Instead, I’m finding a niche with a consulting firm where my ability to react quickly with a broad knowledge base is an asset, rather than a liability. Is this capitulating to my laziness or capitalizing on my strengths? I can’t tell any more.

And how does this all tie into the idea of prescriptive context? If I can really choose who I want to be by choosing my environment, then all of the maundering in this post is pointless and distracting. But I’ll post it anyway, and think about ways to make it more coherent and broadly applicable later.

3 thoughts on “Being all I can be, whatever that may be

  1. Another way to phrase it: if who you are isn’t who you want to be, should you change yourself, or should you change your goals for yourself?

    How much effort should you put into changing your trajectory, and how much into changing your target?

    Put in those terms, the answer that suggests itself is that it depends on how much work each option requires, and how satisfactory the net result is (target end state plus path integral along trajectory).

    Whaddaya think?

  2. I think it’s partly that, although part of my issue is that it’s very difficult to evaluate the potential satisfaction of the result without experiencing the result, so it’s hard to make choices based on that.

    I think part of it is also this inherent nerd masochism thing that I have where I feel that because something is hard, it must be good for me. So I sometimes take the path that grinds against my natural inclinations, precisely because it’s harder. And I kinda wonder if that’s just being dumb. “Ow, this hurts. Ow, this hurts. Ow, this hurts. Hey, maybe I should stop doing this? Nah, it’s good for me.”

    Or, alternatively, “Why are you banging your head into that brick wall?” “Because it feels sooo good when I stop.”

  3. Have you thought about how education and culture has shaped the way that you think? Where did you learn about learning? What questions do you have? What generated the questions?

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