Here's a perspective that could be useful to your long-term happiness and success. I've found unimaginable success this year and this is not magical foresight or supreme intelligence. This is my story of personal development, growing beyond neurotech and into the education nonprofit world. This is the result of an experiment. One single shift in perspective.
Imagine this: you don't have an identity.
Psychology claims: we resist changes that threaten our identity (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4315604/). Yet, change is an unavoidable part of life and we depend on our ability to adapt to our changing environment to survive. Could letting go of our identity be a strategy for success?
I came up with a challenge: can I let go of my defined identity? Can I embrace change at every turn? In 2020, inspired by Michael Singer's The Surrender Experiment, I ran my own experiment.
I developed my hypothesis in two parts:
- By subconsciously embracing change (through the principle of not having an identity), would I increase my ability to adapt?
- By consciously adding change to my life, would I gain from my learned adaptability?
If my hypothesis is correct, then I should find "great success."
I started small. I picked up playing the piano, thinking, "I don't know how to play this instrument. It's not what I am trained to do." Perfect. Then I would learn. And I would play for an hour a day.
Of course, 2020 evolved into a year of tragic and drastic change worldwide. If life is a dark comedy, each month has been a hit this series. Record-breaking forest fires, social injustice, civil unrest, acts of war, and a global pandemic. And that's only the first six months.
Additionally, I left my most successful startup to date, becoming unemployed. Not a great starting point, considering a shrinking job market. Yet, this created the perfect environment for my experiment and forced me turn up the dial on change.
I was no one to myself now. Not a job, not a salary, not who my friends thought I was, not who strangers told me to be. I let go of my future and my past. Free of myself, I thought of others. As I felt more and more the emotional hurt of social distancing measures caused by the pandemic, I wondered who else was suffering. Who needs help?
High school came to mind. I remember social anxiety all too well. What are students doing today, completely blocked from socializing during key formative years? I thought, "I'm unfamiliar with the world of education." Perfect. Then I would learn. And I would interview teachers and counselors every day.
Over 365 days, 365 of the smallest decisions became enormous life-changing actions. After a few months, I could see the limits set in my mind about who I am break away.
In 2020, this is what I’ve learned:
- You can learn from anyone. Everyone has lessons they can teach about something you don't know. And you can say hello to everyone - even if they don't answer back.
- You can learn from anything. Don't get frustrated when you don't see progress - it's there. Progress is guaranteed with time. Get yourself to try something once. Then try again each day. You don't have to push harder than yesterday. But push.
- Learning creates value for your community. Everyone needs help with something and you can help them with what you know. And there is nothing more meaningful than bringing value to others.
The most important thing I've learned from interviewing school teachers, administrators, counselors, students, and parents is this: these lessons need to reach our children.
It is not enough to tell a child, "believe in yourself." They need opportunities to practice their natural ability to break through constraints set by their current identity.
The outcome of my experiment is LIT Conversations. An after-school program that complements existing education by teaching this skill and increasing engagement in the classroom.
At LIT Conversations, students learn how to ask questions and have meaningful conversations. Children are curious by nature. What they need is support in their curiosity. A place for their questions to land and spawn new questions. And this is what we provide.
With LIT Conversations, we increase a child's curiosity in all areas of life. To learn more, please visit https://litconversations.org.
In conclusion, my experiment found success beyond my imagination. I did not know where this self improvement journey would take me, yet now I run educational programs in Atlanta, Georgia, coming soon to Boston, Massachusetts. And I finally made it past Suzuki and into Found, one of my favorites by Marika Takeuchi.
What will you accomplish when you free yourself from identity?