We often talk about wanting to be anti-fragile - the ability to not just stay resilient through chaos, but thrive as a result of it.

But how does one get there? 

I believe that just as an investor diversifies her portfolio to mitigate risk, we should diversify our personal identities through pursuing a diverse and dynamic set of personal commitments.

Every commitment represents 1 hypothesis for who we think we are. As we go through life, we’re constantly editing out, modifying, and adding new hypothesis’ into our identity portfolio. With every iteration the feeling of deep peace and alignment grows. What we value, do, say, and think become increasingly harmonious.

“What if we see ourselves more like a bowl of salad, with each ingredient adding to the flavor?

What if we see ourselves more like a painting, with different colors and textures mixed?

What if the two seemingly contradicting selves can coexist? What if we are borderless?

What if we can choose to live on, discarding the borders that have been imposed upon us?”

- Tina He

grascale photo of people standing on ground\

Diversifying our identities sound great in theory, but why is this so difficult in practice? 

My hunch is that we are inundated by a societal inertia that coaxes us into choosing a single identity, and doing so quickly:

As you can see, the desire for a fixed identity can be very mentally intoxicating and primally comfortable. 

This is further amplified by the fact that “hits of identity” are especially easy to acquire these days through our wallets and institutions. These are the:  

As millennials growing up in the Internet age, we substituted our own mission statements with that of our employers, purchased peace of mind through Glossier facemasks and Casper mattresses, and mistook grids of travel snapshots to be a personality type.

It’s not that these proxies are inherently inaccurate or damaging. Indeed, they represent values we may care about deeply. The problem arises when we go to these proxies looking for identity, instead of these proxies being byproducts and external manifestations of our internal values. Inside-out vs. outside-in. 

When we’re young and don’t have a strong grasp of who we are, these proxies expose us to ideals and values we may internalize as our own. However, it’s problematic when they become the primary source by which we mine our identities going into adulthood. Instead of doing the hard work of solidifying our values through trials and reflection, we may lean on these proxies as sole inputs into who we are. 

From the time we’re 18 and asked to commit to a major and write college essays, it is impressed on us that a fixed identity - knowing who we are - is key to being successful in life.

So we commit to identities that are hugely influenced by parental pressure, childhood trauma, and social expectations, at a time when we don't have enough self-knowledge to really understand what makes us happy.

And then we're surprised when our achievements don't convert to fulfillment. - Ava H.

I’ve learned the hard way that none of these proxies are silver bullets in acquiring a strong sense of identity:

Though one may feel solace through the proxies of job, processions, and institutional affiliations in the short-term, I’ve learned that they dilute and stifle self-understanding in the long-term. 

Having a fixed identity often restricts you to a local maxima. And somewhere deep inside, I think we know when we’ve either chosen the wrong identity or have come up against its inherent shallowness.

So how do we arrive at our truest selves and values? I believe it is only through trying on numerous identities and failing, over and over again, that we begin to develop an intuition towards who we truly are. This means letting go of the notion that your identity is fixed, printed on a brand label, or ordained to you by external institutions and people. It means sacrificing the desire to be liked, in order to secure self-respect.

It means maximizing the surface area of life experiences you can undergo, trades you can tinker in, emotional depths waded into with no safety gear, and lives you can live through masters dead and alive.

Reading, creating, traveling, loving, learning, un-learning and getting ripped apart at every turn. Leaving behind people, ideas, and careers you once ferociously loved, to make space for ones that will take you to new maximas. And to courageously put one foot in front of the other, knowing that nothing was ever done in vain, in the creation of the artwork that is your life. 

That doesn't mean I don't pursue goals or commit to relationships today. Rather it means that I don’t try to wall myself off from change and uncertainty. I maintain a flexible relationship to “who I am” by constantly keeping a rotating identity portfolio of my best-guess swings at what makes me happy. Some commitments don’t change much, while other parts of my identity are in constant renegotiation.

"Life is an endless unfolding, and if we wish it to be, an endless process of self-discovery, an endless and unpredictable dialogue between our own potentialities and the life situations in which we find ourselves.

Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. - John Gardner

Like iron, our identities only become clearer once they’re put through the fire of experiences. To die, decombust, recombine, and renew upon ever-compounding plateaus of self-knowledge. As a result, they are never fixed or homogeneous in nature. Your personal identity portfolio is never locked into one final permutation.

Instead, it’s an abounding and bustling sampling of what alights your soul at any one point at time, and for plethoras of “point-in-times” thereafter.

You are both everything and nothing at the same time. And this thought, for me at least, is incredibly freeing. To continuously keep your identity flexible and open, is to be truly anti-fragile.  

As D.H. Lawrence puts it: "Some people have a lot farther to go from where they begin to get where they want to be—a long way up the mountain, and that is how it has been for me. I don’t feel I am getting older; I feel I am getting closer.