Who Did You Intend to Be? Become that Person.

We live out our life stories writing non-fiction or fiction.  The pages and chapters are true to us or not.  There are shades of gray, of course; a poet becomes a journalist or an entrepreneur becomes a consultant to startups.  But, in the sense of having just one life to live and living either a non-fiction existence or a fictional one, the shades of gray may not matter.  A person either becomes himself or herself or does not.

There are some interesting corollaries to this exacting equation.  One of them is that becoming the person you intended to be is not proven by anything other than your own sense of authenticity.  No one can argue you out of it.  If you are a teacher, through and through, then you’ll know it, no matter what anyone else has to say about it.  If you are a politician through and through, then you’ll know it, whether or not your family agrees it’s a good idea.

Another corollary is that you won’t be able to comfortably abandon your sense of self, even if the world doesn’t reward you for it, initially, or even in your lifetime.  Abraham Lincoln lost elections, as well as winning some.  Vincent Van Gogh sold essentially zero canvases during his life.  He certainly didn’t become rich or famous.  Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, was turned down by 120 or so publishers before one offered him a $3,000 advance to publish the book, which then sold over 10 million copies.

Here’s the thing:  Whether people agree with you becoming the person you intend—deep in your heart—to be doesn’t matter.  Whether they think it’s a good or bad idea is irrelevant.  Whether they buy what you’re selling doesn’t matter.  What matters is whether you live your non-fiction existence, despite all the feedback.  Living that non-fiction existence will be enough of a reward.  You’ll know that when you get there, but getting there isn’t easy.  Not at all.

Just as important as ignoring those who insist you are wrong-minded to author the non-fiction autobiography I am advocating is ignoring those who give you positive feedback for authoring a fictional life story.  You can do work or create products or even write books that aren’t authentic to who you are and be rewarded richly for it.  Andre Agassi never wanted to be a tennis player.  He yielded to those who cheered him on, even as a child, since he was so talented at it.  There are very successful businesspeople who intended to be architects. There are celebrated architects who intended to be carpenters.  Being richly rewarded for a fictional life won’t make living such a life okay.  In some ways, it will only be more daunting to get free.  Golden handcuffs are no less a restraint than those fashioned of steel.  In fact, since they can be tough to toss in the garbage, they may be more of a restraint.

As my own psychiatrist once told me, “The last place you want to find yourself is in a first class seat on a flight going someplace you don’t want to go.”

Becoming the person you intended to be isn’t easy, of course.  First, you have to remember or identify who that was.  While daunting for some, that is always possible—even if you need to get help from a therapist or life coach to figure it out.  Second, you have to be willing to take the perceived risk—of making less money, being judged by others as not “a success,” or second-and-third-guessing your own decision.  Really, though, what is the alternative—not living an authentic life, at all?  Would Van Gogh have been better off as a “successful” real estate agent?

Get to it.  Become the person that you intended to be.  Still not convinced?  Read this column again tomorrow.  You’ll have one less day on the planet to make it happen.

Dr. Keith Ablow

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