Identity Leads to Action

Self portraits (?) by a two-year-old Justin.

I’ve spent the last ten years or so wanting to be a writer.

For a small chunk of that, I’ve even written.

It feels like so much wasted time. Why didn’t I write more?

I’m realizing now that a big part of the problem was that, even though I wanted to be a writer, and even sometimes told people that’s what I was, I didn’t actually believe I was one. I simply saw myself as a stay-at-home dad. One that wrote sometimes, sure, but that was a secondary thing, no different than how I dabble in guitar or paint now and then.

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with being a stay-at-home parent. It was a huge blessing for our family to have a parent home. But, it wasn’t my identity. It was something I did for the benefit of my family, not something I felt called to do for myself.

Being a dad is an amazing and life-long role, of course, but the days of driving them to school and events, days of helping with homework and volunteering for field trips, that all has an expiration date. And who am I after that?

For me, I want to be a writer.

In fact, something I’ve recently noticed is this: no matter what other ideas or interests pop up, they all lead back to writing.

I play guitar because I like writing lyrics.

I paint because I like to illustrate my stories.

It all leads back to writing. Every time.

When I left my last corporate job to stay home with our new baby, I thought I’d take that chance to pursue my oldest childhood dream of becoming a writer. It was our second child, so I wasn’t naive about the free time I’d have or anything like that, but I was naive about being able to flip a mental switch and start a writing habit.

And so, for years and years, my writing habit was anything but. I’d write in bursts of motivation and inspiration, hit a roadblock, and stop for months. I told myself it was because the kids kept me busy, or the housework, or whatever excuse I could think of. Of course, none of those excuses stopped me from wasting hours surfing the web or watching television.

The problem wasn’t my family role. The problem was the way I saw myself. Instead of seeing me, the writer, I saw me, the guy that didn’t have the time for writing.

Lately, finally, I feel I’ve gotten past that roadblock.

For whatever other roles I have in life, when it comes to vocation, I’m a writer. Plain and simple.

That means I write.

Having that identity firmly in mind is the “ultimate form of intrinsic motivation”. Habit expert James Clear says:

“The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say ‘I’m the type of person who wants this.’ It’s something very different to say ‘I’m the type of person who is this.’”

Identity is key. In fact, In his book The Practice, Seth Godin talks a bit about child prodigies, adding this:

“It’s not important that the kids developed their musical skills when they were eleven. It’s important that they developed the habit of identity. When they looked in the mirror, they saw themselves as musicians, as artists, as people who had committed to a journey.”

It’s the old “fake it ‘til you make it” idea.

If you want to be a writer, be a writer.

If you want to be an artist, be an artist.

You have to see yourself as the you you want to be far before the rest of the world sees it. If you know who you are, you’ll soon find yourself doing the things to make that identity real to the rest of the world as well.

As for me, I am a writer.

James Clear quote from his book Atomic Habits

Seth Godin quote from his book The Practice