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.
- When I was 17, I met Kimo Williams, who taught me I could graduate college in 2 years, which gave me an identity as an overachiever.
- When I joined the circus at 18, I was unable to sleep in moving vehicles, so I became the designated driver of the circus truck. Having this role made me feel in charge, so I acted in charge, so I became in charge. After used to being the leader in this small way, I ended up being band-leader of all my bands after that, then starting my own company. It just felt like, “Well, that’s who I am.” But how much of that was due to a decision to drive the circus truck?
- When I was 22, my girlfriend’s hippie parents — and the book “Island” by Aldous Huxley — inspired me to quit my safe and happy job, and to never have a job again. I was now an entrepreneur, committed to creating a living from my own ventures.
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.
- Talking to a beautiful stranger.
- Helping someone in need.
- Starting a band.
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.