Many of us harbor a deep-seated desire to adopt a particular identity, often picturing ourselves as something that we are not.

For example, I’ve longed to be a surfer for years. The idea fascinated me so much that I even booked several weeks of surf lessons in Costa Rica.

Surfing can be incredibly meditative. It compels you to surrender control and simply respond to the unpredictability of the ocean.

The nature of surfing is such that you can’t control the waves. All you can do is react to them. It encourages a zen-like mindset where you learn to accept whatever comes your way and respond to it with your best effort.

Yet, despite the appeal, I soon realized a painful truth: I was more in love with the idea of being a surfer than actually surfing. The thought of catching the perfect wave was thrilling, but the reality involved a lot of crashing, paddling, and exhaustion.

Identity Versus Reality

This dissonance between the allure of an identity and the reality of it is something we all grapple with.

Why do we yearn to adopt these identities? For me, being a surfer was a way to fill a perceived void, an aspiration to be this cool, athletic beach bum.

It’s crucial to understand that wanting an identity is not the same as enjoying the work it entails. This lesson came to me through writing. It’s easy to call oneself a writer, but to put in the work and actually be a writer is another matter. It involves a lot more blood, sweat, and tears.

People often approach me, expressing a desire to become writers. The truth, however, is that many of them are drawn to the idea of being a writer, not the process of writing. They want the identity, not the work.

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The Courage to Let Go

Admitting the disconnect between wanting an identity and enjoying the activity can be a tough pill to swallow.

I, too, had to face the fact that I didn’t find surfing fun after spending a considerable amount of money and time on it.

Many of us fall into the trap of adopting an identity, persevering through tasks we despise because of the persona they allow us to project. Just like the lawyer who loathes his job but clings to the successful lawyer persona, it’s easy to fear letting go of these illusions.

The real courage lies in being okay with not knowing who you are or what you want to do.

The Freedom of Letting Go

So, the question arises:

What are you doing in your life that you don’t actually love, but you’re doing it because of the image it projects or the persona it creates?

Identifying such areas can lead to the root cause of your anxiety, misery, or dysfunction. Such forced identities create unnecessary friction in our lives and often lead us to defensive behaviors to maintain these illusions.

Learning to let go of identities that don’t serve your happiness and fulfillment is liberating. As Seneca wisely put it, a rich man isn’t someone who has everything, but someone who wants nothing.

The more you desire things that aren’t authentically aligned with you, the less content you’ll feel. The process of letting go increases your sense of joy and fulfillment.

Upon realizing I wasn’t destined to be a “badass surf dude,” I felt an enormous sense of relief. I found comfort in embracing my true identity as a “nerd behind a computer.”

This realization helped me drop the burdensome façade and accept myself as I truly am. The key to a rich life is finding pleasure in the things themselves, not just in the identities they confer upon us.


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