We often think we need to have it all figured out.
And so we rush to decide. To fixate.
To turn what you have now — into something you’ll be doing for the rest of your life.
It’s natural. Having an unfinished product causes anxiety — whether it’s writing a blog post or choosing a career — we rush to make a decision, to hit “publish” and to “arrive.”
It’s hard to accept that you still aren’t “there.”
Even harder to imagine you might never be.
But think about this. In a few years, you could be doing something completely different. You could have a different life, in a different place, with a different set of values and different people around you.
Everything might change so drastically — you’d hardly remember what life used to be like today.
You might find yourself doing something you thought you’d never do — something you left for the “other, imaginary life.”
You might be an actor. Or a photographer, living a spontaneous life of chasing beauty in the mundane. A reckless rock musician — a life full of booze, sporadic sex, and inspiration.
Of course, you can’t relate to these versions of you now — given the circumstances.
And yet, it’s possible.
Just five years ago I was a high-school senior, educating myself about the world of business. Mostly to my naivety (or arrogance), I thought I had it all figured out — I was going to follow my father’s footsteps and become an entrepreneur.
Fast-forward to two years later: I am dropping out of the #1 business school in the U.S., and moving back home (Russia) to work.
That’s something I hadn’t planned for.
Fast-forward one more year, and I quit a full-time job to start a business, rent my own apartment.
One more year ahead, and I am doing something I never thought was “my thing” — producing music clips for Russian celebrities and shooting short feature films.
Fast-forward one more year, to now, and I am living in England, getting paid for writing.
I couldn’t have anticipated any of this.
And yet, at every step of this way, I had a certain idea of who I was — or, at least, who I thought I should be. An elaborate story I told myself and my Moleskine.
I am an entrepreneur.
I am a producer.
A college student.
A college dropout.
Etc., etc., etc.
I felt a rush of joy every time I labeled myself one of these names.
But then something new came up, and I would think, “Just maybe, I am not JUST this, but also that. And that. And that.”
What I discovered:
a) I have no idea about who I am — all my ideas about myself were false and created merely to feel good about myself. I rushed to “finish” the process of self-discovery like an immature writer rushes to hit “publish.”
b) you can’t ever know, label, or describe yourself in one word (like ‘entrepreneur’)— so you might as well stop doing that.
c) nobody knows what awaits ahead — I can wake up two years from now, doing something completely bizarre, like being a scientist. And that’s the beauty of life: it unfolds.
When you label yourself and forcefully focus your mind on a specific vocation, you artificially rid yourself of the joyful spontaneity that comes with discovering your true passions.
John Gardener famously said that people die with 90% of their potential untapped. That’s a scary idea.
Not only do you go out from life without uncovering your true potential that you know about, but you also die without exercising the potential you’ve had — and didn’t know about.
Maybe there’s a writer buried deep inside of you. Or an artist. Or an entrepreneur. Or someone else you thought you’d never be — which is nothing but an elaborate lie your insecurity told you.
You might argue that focus is essential when achieving success in anything. And you’ll be right — the most successful ones (Elon Musk? Bill Gates? Warren Buffet? Tiger Woods?) were the most focused ones.
But who said you must become like them?
Who said the point of life is to focus on one thing, and never deviate?
Who said that those people above are the happiest ones, satisfied ones, fulfilled ones, and don’t wish to have an easier, more creative life with fewer obligations?
I am willing to bet that no money in the world can buy Zuckerberg a month-long backpacking trip across Asia, without some crisis happening over at Facebook which he has no choice but to interfere with.
Success doesn’t always equal freedom.
When Kevin Kelly talked about “premature optimization” — urging twenty-somethings to not rush to fixate on one job, craft, or an idea too early — he meant just that. When you focus too early, you rid yourself of the bigger picture of the world.
This is something everyone — regardless of their age — should keep in mind.
After all, there are millions of examples of people in their thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties, who went to discover their “true selves”, many times over.
You know some of them: Haruki Murakami wrote his first novel at 31, working as a bar owner before.
The process of self-renewal never ends.
But I always thought that self-renewal is something you have to be consciously aware of. Something you do with your mind.
When you read about self-renewal, it’s easy to think you have to forcefully unroot yourself every 7–10 years and create a new life for yourself. Sometimes out of necessity, other times out of chasing a new ambition, the process seems to look like this: you sit down, get a pen and paper, and think to yourself, “Who should I become next?”
But self-renewal isn’t about coming up with yet another idea (in your head) of who you are. Rather, it’s the natural process of self-discovery — and tapping into your creativity (that’s always there regardless whether you’re aware of it or not).
Instead of using your mind to over-intellectualize the process of self-renewal, you can allow it to sit still and do nothing.
You can work on your “blocks” — creative blocks, which stop the organic process of self-renewal to happen in the first place — and let renewal happen on its own.
Humans are a creative species, always striving to uncover more and more of their hidden potential — but so few of us are creative because our creativity is clogged.
It’s like the clogged sink. But instead of hair and nails — you’ve got fear and insecurity blocking the natural flow.
You clean that pipe through specific courses, books, and psychotherapy. Then you can view yourself as an artist — which you are — and treat life as art too, which it is.
Art is never created from overthinking or labeling. On the contrary, it’s created by letting go and seeing what happens.
By experimenting. Trying. Playing.
Artists hate labels — especially the ones that other people assign them — for a reason: they never represent the true state of things.
You are (or can be) much more than a writer, entrepreneur, employee, freelancer, content creator, director, painter, musician, what have you.
You can be many things at once. And you don’t have to ever settle. You don’t have to figure everything out.
We are not barnacles — and life is not about finding a rock to cement ourselves into for eternity.
Instead, life is an incoherent, off-topic, often digressive book that doesn’t even have to have a plot.
But it has to be interesting.
As artists, we owe it to ourselves.