Reshaping Identity4 min read

I’ve started reflecting more on what makes my music career a success. I discovered I have a habit of seeking validation from others. For example, I used to measure a successful music career as something like “Only until I’ve performed a concert for 50,000 people am I successful” or “Should anyone say they didn’t like my music I feel like a failure”.

We see this same idea play out on social media. Only until I have 1 Million followers will I feel like I’m “enough”.

When I receive the validation I seek, I feel accomplished. When I don’t receive the validation I seek, I have failed.

Our identities can be solely tied to a metric out of our control (ie. the validation of others, the follower count on our Instagram profile, whether someone believes a meal we prepared is delicious) and when that outcome is less than satisfactory, our world comes tumbling down and we lose sight of who we are.

In Taylor Swift’s documentary Miss Americana, she mentions how during her feud with Kanye West when society started calling her fake, a liar, and tweeting they hate her she wanted to disappear. “[Musicians] are people who got into this line of work because we want people to like us. We are intrinsically insecure, because we liked the sound of people clapping because it made us forget how much we feel like we’re not good enough. I’ve been doing this for 15 years and I’m just tired of it. The reason why that backlash hurt so much was because that used to be all I had.”

Growing up, there were times when my self-identity (the choices I made, thoughts I shared, goals I set) were tied to how someone else graded my “performance”. Musicians find themselves wanting to please an audience for a living. Olympic runners base their life purpose around achieving a specific time. Students base their success solely by amount of information they recalled during a test.

Regardless of whether the outcome was a success or failure, it’s achievement does not encapsulate the total value of that person.

When we tie our self-identity to a specific outcome we will always lose in the end. The results we achieve are never entirely within our control, only our actions are within our control.

Reshaping a self-identity that is based on what is within our control allows us to be happier. This podcast episode by Andrew Huberman provided some insights around shaping your self-identity.

My Notes from the episode:

  • Our identity is shaped a lot by our environments as a child from our parents, peers, and community, not only from observations but from imposed structures.
  • Discover your identity by anchoring your identity to WHY you do something rather than WHAT you do.
  • Example: Emotional connection formed through music with bandmates or with an audience. I enjoy inspiring new feelings in people. I’m drawn to human connection.
  • Framing a Situation to get better results: The type of frame we apply to a situation impacts our emotional response to success and failure.
    • Approach: Success has feelings of pride and accomplishment.
    • Avoidant: Success has feelings of calm and relief.
  • Example:
    • Approach: I want to enter into a relationship
    • Avoidant: I want to avoid feeling loneliness
  • Some people are more driven by fear where they need more urgency to drive them.
  • Approach framing is proven to be more motivating and easier to measure success.

I’ve formed better habits lately, which I believe is largely due to my change in identity and how I frame situations. Relating to music, I want to write an album. I have played guitar since the age of 14. Over the last 12 years, I’ve written 3 songs.

I’ve started to identify myself as a singer/songwriter. This type of individual naturally has other singer/songwriter friends, writes music often, and enjoys the process of writing and recording music without a focus on the outcome of needing to write a certain amount of songs. I’ve since written 6 new songs and had 15+ different songwriters over my house to collaborate.

I’ve started re-framing this thinking to instead base success only on factors I can control. Did I sit down to write a song today? Did I practice singing for 30 minutes today? If yes, then today was a win.

By grading myself on the actions that are within my control and accepting that ultimately the outcome is not within my control I feel better and am more likely to continue working towards my goals.

Since changing how I grade my success, I’ve gained a greater sense of fulfillment and meaning from this approach, which just so happens to make others pretty pleased with me too.

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