Predictable Identities: 9 – How to Change

You’ve changed your mind and who you want to be. Your social web is having none of it. What to do?

One option is to simply power through. Stick to your (new) guns and admit that your mind is indeed changed. The “zeal of the convert” is important here: it takes extra commitment to convince those who knew the old you to change their story.

A savvier approach is to leverage common tropes and adopt a role that entails transformation. If you want to switch from layabout to responsible professional, or vice versa from workaholic to self-caretaker, it may help to have a romantic partner break up with you. “Area person reassesses life priorities after heartbreak” is a familiar story that people can get behind. “Area rationalist reassesses life after Hamming circleisn’t, even if that’s what actually happened.

But the easiest option may just be to GTFO and change the scene. I’ve reset my social web several times, usually with positive results.

By the time I learned how to be funny in elementary school, everyone had decided that I’m a boring nerd. I moved to a new city for high school and did better as the clever class clown, but these traits were not in high demand when I enlisted in the military. I eventually grokked professionalism, but it was too late to gain the trust of my officers. I emigrated. I did better in my next two stops but blew through my weirdness budgets and couldn’t shake off my reputation as a weirdo.

Finally, I came to New York, where I did not know a single soul. I took my craziest opinions out of the office and onto the internet. I started acting like the person I wanted to be seen as, not who I was before.

It works, for now.

Series Navigation<< Predictable Identities: 8 – Roles People PlayPredictable Identities: 10 – Big Updates >>

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About Jacob Falkovich

Jacob is so proud of his blog, putanumonit.com, that it's on his online dating profiles. He also tweets @yashkaf.

Comments

  1. Interesting idea there, that the zeal of converts, particularly recent converts, serves a useful function in disposing them to transform their social environment in order to properly implement the change in identity.

    In that sense, converting to some new philosophy and sharing it incessantly with those around you could be interpreted not as “I like this, so must you”, but a form of intensive self-reintroduction, a strong desire to talk about your identity and values premised on a desire that those who used to understand you are able to comprehend and embrace the new identity.

    Just like a weld is often thicker than the surrounding metal, preserving continuity of social relations and collective memory can be more intense in the face of self-presentation-discontinuity because the practices of group adhesion and meaning making must be practiced more intensively.

    Also reminds me, as I’m in a political mood, of deradicalisation programs, and how they work to help people create new identities and come to term with change. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if in their high stakes but approximately end-point-neutral context, they’ve discovered some insights into managing personal discontinuities that might be useful elsewhere.

    Before such processes are successfully completed, the other classic approach is the “double life”, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either, context sensitive expressions of identity, initiatory environments etc. have been around for quite a while, but can be a problem if in the process of filling out multiple identities, and particularly, engaging in group conformity with different environments, you end up creating expressions of identity that are not merely complexity saving cuts of a full beings activities, but are actually mutually inconsistent constructions, saved from embarrassment or cognitive or loyalty dissonance, (and generally speaking the undermining of both partial identities by rendering them “deceptive” rather than just surprisingly incomplete) only by contingent discontinuities in the material conditions of your relationships, things you can only maintain by expanding your sphere of control to an overextent.

    If buddhists cared more about identity, I’m sure they’d have an argument there.

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