And Outside-in Identity
My clothes are wearing out. I quit my job. Substack asked me to categorize this newsletter. These things lead to questions of identity, categorizing and presenting myself.
The standard question in these circumstances is “Who am I?”. To me, this feels like the wrong question to ask. There’s a certain vibe to the question, it reeks of uncertainty and anxiety — ripe pluckings for identity-consumerism.
My initial attempt at a better question is “How do I want others to perceive me?”. When I ask myself this question, I start to shrink. There are elements of anxiety here, and I’m reminded of past ruminations on prestige.
I decided to close my laptop and talk to a friend instead.1
A Better Question
My friend suggested the question “How do I want to express myself?”. When I heard it, my mindset shifted abruptly, and I started seeing possibilities instead of dangers.
Maybe I can treat my clothing as a kind of art? Dressing can become a ritual - picking clothes that help me go into favourable states of mind.2 I can ignore demands to categorize myself into generic categories, and rather focus on being coherent, focused and specific.
“What are you up to nowadays?”
“Helping myself and others to live skilfully!”
My friend’s advice reminds me of a piece of advice I once got from Peter:
“Why are you spending time thinking about what kind of man women want? What kind of woman do you want?!”
This piece of advice was helpful to me, and is very similar! I seem to get stuck ruminating about things from an outside-in perspective - and in both these cases I’ve been recommended using the inside-out perspective to get unstuck.3
The simple takeaway is “Go team inside-out!”. I want to reject the simple takeaway!
I have spent a lot of time avoiding the outside-in perspective. I’ve treated it as a sure way to lose my power and slide into anxiousness. Historically, this stance has made sense - but I’m ready for a new one.
I think a balance here is key - I want to move between the outside-in and the inside-out perspective fluidly. Avoiding outside-in perspectives robs me of my power! If I can’t think clearly about how others perceive me, I’m bound to make suboptimal choices.
I don’t think I can do it on my own. My outside-in perspective is loaded with judgment and likely to be misleading. Fortunately, there’s a simple solution - talking to people!
I will interview my friends about my clothing, my newsletter/philosophical guidance, and how they think others perceive me. This way, I get assistance with the outside-in perspective and also connect with friends in ways that bolster mutual empowerment.
Sounds like a double win to me.
Merry Christmas! :)
I am planning on releasing posts twice a week - on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’m not sure how long I will keep this up - right now I’m experimenting and sensing into what it’s like.
I am trying out a release schedule because it’s the #1 piece of advice I’ve gotten when I’ve asked around about how to grow this newsletter.
I want to help more people live skilfully. If you want to assist, please share this newsletter with people who are likely to have use of it.
Also, I have some slots for philosophical inquiry open in early January. Pretty much all of the people who have tried it this far have come back for round #2, and slots tend to close quickly. I’d love to inquire with you and help you navigate patterns of stuckness in your life.
Anxiety is not good fuel for thought - trying to make sense of things while anxious just leads to endless rumination that never really consolidates, for me.
the science is in: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1948550615579462
Given my history over (over-)analyzing social dynamics, this makes sense to me. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking outside-in, and there’s a vibe of pressure/performance anxiety there for me now. Might want to get over that..