What's Past is not Prologue
Your personality isn't set in stone
I closed the refrigerator door, turned to my wife Allison, and said, “You should read Personality Isn’t Permanent next.”
“Do you think it would be helpful?”
“Well, it is a self-help book,” I said through a smirk. “But seriously, it helped me a lot last year.”
Allison isn’t the biggest fan of self-help books. I get it. They can be banal and vapid at times. And then they can beat you over the head with the same concepts over and over and over.
But this year she’s been coming around to them. Her therapist and I have been recommending them to help her deal with anxiety. For example, she recently read Big Magic—a book I love and I’m now re-reading—and it has inspired her to add more creative projects into her life.
She’s already heard me talk about Personality Isn’t Permanent, a book I discovered on its exact release date—as if it was meant to be—back on June 16th, 2020. It was a time when I was looking to make a big change in my life—I just didn’t know precisely what that change was yet. Back then, I was working a job that paid well—when we had good monthly sales numbers at least—but it was in an industry that was fraught with issues and I was getting burned out. And, due to COVID, I wasn’t commuting at all anymore, so I had more time on my hands. I needed something fresh to get excited about and I was searching for answers.
The basic premise of the book is, well, that your personality isn’t permanent. You might think your personality is just the way you are and there’s nothing you can do about it. Which is to say, your personality feels like it’s closely tied to your identity and it’s unchangeable. But you would be wrong.
Think about it for a few seconds. Do you feel like you’re the same person you were in high school? No? How about college?
Back in college, your idea of a fun Friday night could’ve perhaps started with band practice, where you’d drink some Coors Light, then you’d carry the remainder of the twelve-pack in your backpack to a party, where your guitarist supposedly knows some girls, but they’re nowhere to be found, so you’d head to a different party down the street where you’d finish your beers, and then you’d mix warm Cherry Coke with cheap Lucky brand charcoal-filtered Vodka you found on that stranger’s kitchen counter, and it tastes like Robitussin, but you’d drink way too much of it anyway, then you’d pass out on a different stranger’s couch, and spend the majority of the next day puking every last bit of anything out of your stomach.
Y’know, just for example.
Do you feel like that same person today? Still no, right?
The opposite could be true too. My mom recently told me she was incredibly shy when she was younger. Even ordering food at a restaurant was difficult for her. She credits my dad with helping her overcome that personality trait since he would encourage her to assert herself and put herself out there more. Now she’s not afraid to talk to anyone and she has way more friends in town than I do, and she doesn’t even live here full-time.
If she had taken the famous Myers-Briggs personality test back in high school, she would’ve almost certainly been considered an introvert. But I’d bet a lot of money that today the results would indicate she’s an extrovert.
You get the idea: your personality isn’t permanent.
So there I was, last summer, searching for what I wanted to do next. It didn’t have to be a career move, by the way. But I wanted it to be something where I could express myself and be creative again. I kept those wants in the back of my mind while folding the corners of pages and scribbling marginalia along the way.
After a week or so of reading the book and thinking deeply, I was journaling one night and I was frustrated. I wanted to figure out what to do next—to find my “thing”—but I wasn’t having any luck. I opened up a blank Google doc and blurted out a bunch of words about success and how I didn’t know what the hell success meant to me, even though I would certainly be considered successful by most measures (money, family, health, etc.). Those words eventually became this post: How Do I Define Success?
The writing was fueled by anger, but it was actually fun. I was in the flow. It felt good and I wanted to do it more. That’s when it hit me: I should pursue writing. At that moment, I made the commitment to try on a new identity.
It took me almost three months to pull the trigger and click the publish button on my first piece where I declared myself a writer. But I finally did it.
And here I am, over a year—and 54 posts!—later, still showing up each week.
The book gave me the permission I needed to ignore the high school English teacher who told me I interpreted a poem incorrectly, in front of the whole class; embarrassing me and planting the idea in my mind that I wouldn’t ever understand literature and I couldn’t possibly be a writer. In other words, the book helped me understand that telling myself I’m not a writer in the past doesn’t have to be the prologue of the book that tells the story of the rest of my life.
While Allison’s anxiety doesn’t stem from a one-time event, at its core, it’s similar to my experience in that it can seem like it’s impossible to overcome. Her anxiety has been difficult and more pronounced ever since our daughter Em’s traumatic birth. But, through working with her therapist, she has since come to realize that it has been part of her personality for much longer. To her, it was validating that a label—anxiety—exists to describe her feelings. It made her feel less alone.
But before you know it, “I get anxiety sometimes” can suddenly change to “I’m an anxious person.” And if that feeling recurs often enough, then attempting to change it can seem hopeless. The label can eventually turn into an identity. The book showed me that there’s another way to think about it, that you can change your identity, and that’s why I shared it with Allison.
“So all I need to do is just say I’m not going to be anxious anymore and I won’t be?” Allison asked me later that day after she read the first chapter. “Is it really that simple?”
“It’s not that simple,” I said, “But yeah, that’s the basic premise. I mean, you’ll need to commit to it and it won’t always be easy. I can’t fully understand what you’re going through, but even with my writing I sometimes struggle and don’t feel like I’m truly a writer. But I force myself to put something on the page every day. Whether it produces something worthwhile each day is a different story.”
“Wow,” she said, “this is kind of blowing my mind right now.”
And then she opened up the book to chapter two.
🚨 Exciting news alert 🚨
If you’re an email subscriber, first of all, thank you. I’m so appreciative that you’re here. Second of all, you might’ve noticed I included this sentence in the footer of my last email:
Just Enough to Get Me in Trouble is part of Wayfinder, a writer collective exploring questions that matter.
Let me break it down for you.
What is Just Enough to Get Me in Trouble?
Umm, you should know this one already. It’s my way-too-long name for this publication. Some people tell me I should change it to something shorter. Other people say they love it. I love it too, so I’m keeping it.
What is Wayfinder?
Well, it’s not a company. It’s a group of people who are trying to find their way in life and write their way through it.
We’re a group of writers here to offer up humble perspectives on topics that matter to us -- and that we believe will matter to others as well.
What’s a writer collective?
It’s a collection of writers who all support each other with things like moral support, ideation, editing, promotion, encouragement, and more. We meet regularly and help each other produce the best possible writing we can.
We all write our own publications, so nothing will change for you as a subscriber to my writing. We may collaborate in the future. But don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere.
What do you mean by “questions that matter”?
I think the Wayfinder about page explains it best:
They’re the big questions that direct our lives, oftentimes unknowingly.
The touchy-feely stuff. The hopes and dreams that you can’t tell your manager. The conversations that trigger your uncle to shift uncomfortably in his seat at family dinner. The ‘alright, let’s have some real talk’ types of discussions.
Happiness, meaning, and connection.
Belonging, ambition, and wonder.
Authenticity, identity, and becoming.
Where can I check it out?
I’m glad you asked! Click the big blue button below to go to the Wayfinder homepage and check out the four other great writers in the collective.
Ever since I started this project, I’ve wanted a regular group of writers to commiserate, collaborate, and commingle with, and I’m so happy I found them.
Thank you to you, my dedicated reader, who made it all the way down here. You’re the best.
If you liked this post, could you please let me know by tapping the heart button below?