Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
— Walt Whitman
I spoke in my previous post about how I tried to be consistent and changed myself to be so. It’s not the full story.
The thing is that we have, in each of us, a multitude of selves. Psychology refers to this as multiple selves. It’s easier to understand that there are different sides to ourselves. There are many sides to us, and it’s impossible for me to document them all, especially because each of us is unique.
Combinations of self
And this is where I believe we are unique. It’s the combination of these selves that are different for each and every one of us. Perhaps in you, your shy side is stronger. Perhaps in another, their assertive side is stronger.
Rather than having a single part of us define who we are, I believe we need to embrace the fact that there are multiple sides to us. Multiple selves.
Have you ever felt like you were the person who didn’t belong to any single group, that instead, you were part of many groups? And that you couldn’t define yourself or feel that you truly belonged to either group? At least, not the way other people did?
Guess what? We all feel that way.
This realization was mind-blowing for me.
It opened doors that I didn’t think possible before. It meant that I wasn’t an outcast and that I wasn’t weird for not feeling like I didn’t belong. It was normal. It meant that it was ok for me to be a multitude.
The network that makes the “self”
So who am I? Who is my “self”?
I was watching the latest episode of Castle recently (because crime-fighting writers are just an awesome fantasy to have) and the lead female Kate Beckett said some really powerful words.
I’ve let my mother’s death define me for too long. And it’s not that I want to stop that. I don’t want to stop being me. It’s just that… I want to be more than who I am.
Sometimes we let only one part of us define who we are. Often, I see this in people defining themselves through just their job, or just their hobby, or even just their relationship. By defining ourselves through a single lens, we set ourselves up for trouble.
First, it unbalances your life. Defining yourself through one thing means that you naturally pay a lot more attention to it. This results in you paying less attention to the other sides of your life. Think of those people who obsess over their careers and imagine how they are. You see what I mean, right? It therefore makes the other parts of your life slowly rot away, until one day, when you finally notice, it’s too late.
Second, it means you have no other parts of yourself to rely on. The moment you lose that thing that defines you, you’re gone. Your whole psyche has a nervous breakdown because when you lose that thing, you lose your “self”. You are no one! It’s a horrible feeling to have.
Third, you can never be the best. When looking at only a single skill, you’ll always find someone else out there who’s better than you. Always. You are never the best. Defining yourself by that one skill, you’ll never feel that you’re ever truly worth something. How can you when you’re number 2? Or number 2000?
So I think that we should embrace all the different roles and people that we can be, and understand that each of these define only a small part of us, and that your “self” is a total sum of all these parts. In my “about me” page, I wrote that I’m a brother, son, student, teacher, engineer, debater, basketballer, geek, reader, writer, recluse, public speaker, and so on.
I wrote all that before this concept of the networked self was ever in my mind. Or at least, before it was ever this clear in my mind. This idea that we are a network of our inner selves. So, I think that I had a subconscious idea of it even since then. When one of these parts is abruptly taken away, it doesn’t phase me.
I stopped playing basketball? Oh well. Who I am is much more than that.
I stopped debating (because, well, I graduated)? No big. I’m more than just this. I still had other parts of myself to rely on.
Imagine a person defined by his career who was fired? They could (and they have) committed suicide over it. They are just their job and nothing more. Which is extremely sad to me.
Imagine a person who breaks up with their boyfriend/girlfriend ? They could (and they have) committed suicide over it. They are just their relationship and nothing more. Which is again, extremely sad to me.
So we embrace our different, multiple sides. We embrace all these different people who we can be. We embrace all these different people who we ARE. And thus is born, a network of selves. Thus is born, the networked self.
This self isn’t just a combination of different personalities in one body. I’m pretty sure that’s a recognized mental disease (Multiple Personality Disorder). It’s about having all these different selves networking between them, arguing, compromising, negotiating with each of your other selves and finally coming to a conclusion on how all your selves can work together to do the best for your total “self”.
This network of your different selves is what makes you unique. Even if someone else had some of your “selves”, the combination they had would be different. Even if they had the same “selves” that you had, the way you networked it would be different.
This network of selves is who I am.
But more, I believe we can take the idea of the unique network even higher. Mind you, what comes after this is a little abstract.
The network that makes “new ideas”
There is nothing new under the sun
It’s true. There are no truly new ideas. But then what of all these new ideas that we keep getting all the time? I believe that it’s merely a result of applying old concepts in new situations.
We now have student-centred learning? It just means that the student says and does stuff and applies skills instead of just listening to the teacher all the time. Guess what? A long long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, students had to apply skills to learn things such as fishing, farming, blacksmithing, etcetera. Doesn’t sound so new anymore, does it?
But this doesn’t reduce the usefulness and strength of the idea. It’s still worth it, because not everyone can make that connection. It needs you to fully understand that idea, and to apply it in that new situation that is unique to you. Therefore, a “new idea” comes about only as a result of this network of ideas that exist in your mind. When your mind connects and analyzes these different concepts, it becomes a completely “new idea” that works for you in your situation.
Law students would get me I think. Judges make new laws all the time. The situation surrounding every case is always different, so a judge always has to make new rulings based on old laws and fits them into the present situation. It’s not a new law, but it is.
It’s not a new idea, but it is; because you’ve applied it in a new way.
The network that makes “society”
In the same vein, society is not just a bunch of individuals standing around in the same place, just like who you are isn’t just a bunch of personalities in the same body. It’s rather about how those parts interact with each other.
The Western concept of society is that to make a good society, you make sure that every single individual is good. Guess what? It’s not enough. It’s not enough in the same way that it’s not enough in martial arts to improve single aspects to perfection. Improving just your kick, just your punch and just your balance doesn’t give you anything unless you learn to make it all work together. It’s the networking and interaction of all those skills that make your art better.
This means to me that society isn’t just made up of individuals, but rather of the ties and interactions between those individuals. A society truly begins to grow once you allow those connections to take place and evolve it.
The network that makes “uniquely marketable workers”
If you go into the market looking for a job and you’re only advertising one skill, it’ll be tough for you. You’ll have competition. There are 60,000 engineers in the market. If I define myself only using my Engineering degree, I’ll have to battle 60,000 engineers for a job. But what if I throw in my experience in debating? Perhaps even my interest in codes and programming? All of a sudden, the field gets a lot narrower. What about my interest in poetry? And all that time I’ve spent teaching?
An intersection of all these skills that make me unique, also make me unique in the job market.
Example? Randall made xkcd (an awesome webcomic) because he linked his interest in geeky things with his interest in drawing and expression through art. He now gets to draw geeky things. Awesome right? Did I mention I love stick figures?
Another example? The last I heard, there were like maybe 2 biotechnology lawyers in the whole of Malaysia. Only TWO! Maybe only one. I forget. That person took their degree in biotech, then did a second degree in law. Guess who’s earning big bucks now? This person can’t be replaced because of that unique spot they made for themselves using a networked skill-set.
So to recap, build skills so that you’re unique in the job market. There’s actually a name to this strategy, even though it’s such an obvious strategy. (Refer “There is nothing new under the sun”). Business type people call it the “Blue Ocean” Strategy. Look it up. Buy the book if you’d like. Then tell me about it. I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.
Your inner networks make you unique
I’m sure you’ve caught on to the theme here now. You are unique not because of a particular part of you, but because of you as a whole. Therefore, it’s fine to add more to yourself as you grow. In fact, becoming “more than who you are” makes you even more unique.
Do you feel that temptation?
I feel it too. That temptation to define myself using only a single side of me. After all, it’s soooo much more simple and gives much less headaches than having to be a well-rounded person.
But I won’t. Not anymore. Nowadays, I give myself permission:
- to be a multitude
- to change parts of me without having to feel that I’m betraying me
- to feel ok when I’m not the best in any single thing, because I don’t need to be the best to feel I’m worthwhile
- or to feel I’m worthy
- to add more and become more than who I currently am
So a quick recap. Your “self” isn’t just a single side of you. Be careful when you limit the way you define yourself. Then you’re limiting yourself too.
Ideas are never completely new. But take the great ideas that you’ve heard and try to apply them around you. You might be surprised what you come up with.
Society and groups of people are defined not just by how they individually are, but are rather defined by the connections and networks they form.
If you’re looking for a job, don’t chase the same job everyone else is. “Blue Ocean” yourself and put together your specialized different skills.
Who am I?
I am large, I contain multitudes.