I know quite a few lawyers who seem to base the whole of their identities on being lawyers. They use legal language in casual conversation, make jurisprudence jokes, and talk about court cases and firms the way people talk about sports games and teams. It’s who they are.
So what happens if these people, for whatever reason, are put in a position where they can’t practice anymore? Kablooie – there go their identities.
But identity is a funny thing. It abhors a vacuum. And it will fill it with whatever the most accessible thing is. Art. Booze. Whatever’s on hand really. And when an identity hardens around something, it’s damn hard to chisel it out again.
That’s why it’s important to not let your identity rest too heavily on any one pillar. Be a lawyer or a writer or whatever your thing is. But be other things too – a friend and a photographer and a tennis player – and be them just as much. As in the stock market, diversify to spread risk; that way if you can’t do one thing, you’ve got others to fill the identity gap. Of course, diversifying also means probably not being great at anything – more on that some other time.
Ideally, I think you want to get to a point where your identity isn’t dependent on anything external at all, on anything you have or do; a point where you base your worth on the values you live by, your integrity, and your character. When you get there – and this is just a theory – all the rest can fall away. You’re you, living in the world inside out, and that’s enough. Baby steps.