Derek Sivers

Entrepreneur, programmer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

Small actions changing self-identity

Have you noticed how a small action can change your self-identity?

Last week when I was learning scuba diving in Iceland, I took a snorkeling trip to my dive spot first. The snorkelers did everything the divers did, minus the tank and weights.

So a week later, when I returned to dive for real, I felt a little like an assistant teacher. I was helping the other tourists who had never been there before, showing them where to go, and helping them rinse their masks.

Even though the day before, I wasn't very confident about my diving skills (I had just got my scuba certification that day), taking on this role of assistant-teacher made me feel a bit like an expert. By the time I got in the water, I was confident and excited. (An hour later, I helped a panic-stricken diver get to the surface, really cementing this feeling.)

I think back about the other tiny actions that changed my self-identity.

Hm, well, maybe that last one wasn't small, but the one action of quitting my job became some kind of proof that I'm the type that avoids my comfort zone to step into the unknown.

Recently, when I quit my company and was riding a scooter around Vietnam, a long-lost friend called out of the blue. When I told him what I was doing he just said, “Yep. That sounds like you!”

Based on what?

A series of small actions I've taken along the way, I guess. I could have just as easily made a single different decision earlier at 17, and be married with kids teaching guitar lessons in Chicago quite happily.

Like those life-changing coincidences - (how did you meet your spouse?) - taking a small action can snowball into huge changes that create a new you.

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