To stop the sense of being overwhelmed with what you cannot control, invest only in your hold on that which you can be certain of controlling: your sense of self. Be your own consistency among inconsistencies. An actively self-conjured element in a sea of unpredictable elements. Your internal assuredness of you is the direction that transcends all mirages and shoots to the destination. That is personal empowerment.
Context: The first and last time that I danced with a zebra was on Fire Island in South LI.
Not a whole zebra with hooves and all though, just the head. Only two legs. Blue swimsuit instead of black and white stripes. At Electric Daisy Carnival, the last thing that anyone would think to ask was where she got that mask or how she could even see through it.
We rode over to that island on a boat that held about several hundred people decked out in enough neon to make the Las Vegas Strip look like an unpainted background set for an Oliver Twist TV special.
In any place like that, a certain type of question is invited. A question about the difference between just looking a certain way and legitimately being a certain way.
Organic? Inorganic? Authentic? Inauthentic? Original? Bootleg? Whatever the word choice, there’s a whole lot of room for your mileage to vary. Sometimes, no matter how unbelievable it seems, what you see really is what you get.
Now sure, you may come across a certain type of guy every now and then who gets a face tat to look tough but would probably injure himself shadow boxing. That type of person exists.
Now consider the guy who just straight up tattoos his whole face grey.
Full face. Pure grey. Is that guy faking something? If so, what could he possibly faking? What is that the counterfeit version of?
To me, a person who goes out of their way to get their whole body tattooed purple is, authentically, one physically purple motherfucker. One hundred percent. Something real had to exist, somewhere, on some level, to make that choice manifest. You can’t fake that.
Some people may put on outrageous personas to get a reaction, but for every one of those personas, there’s a very real person out there who is just only being passably imitated.
Take my buddy who tackled Fire Island with me, for example. Now lots of people out may force themselves to get friendly with strangers when it’s mandatory but truly can’t stand it. My buddy is absolutely not in that camp.
At the end of the night, I watched my buddy high-five a half-mile long procession line of island concertgoers walking in the opposite direction. Some high-fived back casually, some left him hanging, and some lit up like it made their whole year and went full tilt on the high five return fire.
No matter what reaction he got, the one consistent factor was my buddy’s enthusiasm. He has a legitimate appreciation for the experience of people that manifest like bubbles in soap. It’s not for the sake of any outcome or reputation, but a genuine love of the moment. Zero counterfeit. The real deal in hard, truth-telling cash.
Speaking of counterfeit, it turns out the Secret Service is finally getting serious about credit card skimming at the gas pumps. So just in case you planned on picking up a few gifts next holiday season courtesy of Sunoco’s customers, you may just want to stick to something more sophisticated. Maybe something like catfishing sugar daddies with a fake Tinder account. Or catfishing sugar mamas with a fake Nigerian long-distance romance scheme. Whatever’s your speed, just be careful about trying to pull off gas station identity theft from now on.
Of course, there’s usually a pretty fine line between being yourself and actual identity theft. Then again, the personal identities we own tend to be made up of a whole lot of borrowed material by default. Maybe even imported. That imported material comes in the form of random early life experiences, close personal relationships that develop by happenstance, intentional engagements, and everything in-between.
When you’ve got so much material from so many different sources coming to complete the core of the final product, which happens to be “who the hell we think we are”, it can be tempting to start thinking about who really owns all that. In the age of personal brand ownership, the question is more relevant than ever.
To put this a bit more in perspective, let’s talk about Instagram. A popular belief in the Instagram business lane is that people buy individual posts, not entire feeds.
Now, apply that principle to everywhere that’s not Instagram. Even with an entire lifetime of experiences behind and before you, the brief impression that a stranger gets of you in one isolated moment only lasting seconds can potentially carry all the weight in determining their fixed idea of your true identity.
Now I tend to source most of my clients directly, but as a fun little experiment, I recently revived my art and fitness-focused profiles. I started digging into the different ways that people approach engagement on the platform when the cost of organic reach is steeper than ever.
In the same way that a brief impression in real life can dictate a person’s entire opinion of a stranger in an instant, a single Instagram post from a profile with thousands of different pictures still carries practically all the account’s power of persuasion in the moment that it emerges in another user’s feed.
I’ve only got a couple dozen pics up between both accounts myself, but even if I had several hundred thousand, only the one that another user sees for a few seconds on their own feed while scrolling would matter in compelling their business.
In a technical way, you could almost say that the notion of an identity is like a open source program that’s built by personal experiences. A little hands-on maintenance now and then, some habit tweaks here, a tattoo there, and that identity program of yours just might wind up helping build a brand-new standard of maintenance for future versions down the line.
If not that, then maybe just something that inspires another person’s idea about how their own program runs. Maybe it challenges the way they interpret their own code. Maybe it gives them a new idea about how to approach their independent maintenance.
Maybe, even if it doesn’t cause the whole wide world to change at once, it can still be the recreation of one world. Just one small tweak that sets off chain of continuous change wrapping ’round the world wide web of personal identity ownership. That’s a damn good start.