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Snippet of Artistic DNA: A Taxonomy of Identity

We’re a few days into this session of my e-course, Map Your Artistic DNA, and I’m loving the engagement already. Here’s an excerpt from the first mini-lesson, to give you a taste of what we’re doing.

A Taxonomy of Identity

Your identity ~ who you think you are ~ is the chief controller of your life. It will determine what you hope for and how you make yourself feel. To reach the full potential and joy of your true, Stronger Self, you must free yourself of your old, limited identity and its primitive ways of coping.” ~ Neil Fiore, Awaken Your Strongest Self

When we want to make lasting changes in our lives, there’s a temptation to turn to the world of doing to kick-start that change. “Fake it till you make it.” “Action is character.” “We are what we repeatedly do.” And while this approach can work, and there’s truth in these statements, they don’t tell the whole story.

We are who we are. We have traits that are consistent over time.

We are who we think we are. We can change what we believe about ourselves.

You’re here because you want to know what makes you an artist, a writer. You’ll find answers in a few different places. Let’s start with something of a taxonomy of identity.

Psychologist Carl Rogers proposed a theory of the self that has several layers:

SELF-CONCEPT is made up of your beliefs about who you are. For example, “I am a writer” is a self-concept. “I am a full-time mom who does a little blogging on the side” is another self-concept. All kinds of characteristics get included in your self-concept, including gender, class, race, education, career, family and social roles ~ the list could go on forever. In this class, of course, we’re focusing on your creative, artistic identity.

SELF-ASSESSMENTS are used to form the self-concept. A self-assessment is a judgment you make about what you observe of your identity. You are likely assessing your personality, skills and abilities, job and hobbies, physical characteristics, and so on. For example, “My story is terrible. No wonder it got rejected. Maybe I’m not a real writer after all,” is a self-assessment that may make you re-evaluate your self-concept.

SELF-ESTEEM is the worth you assign to the self-concept you’ve constructed. You might admire and feel proud of yourself for being an artist. Or you might feel that you don’t contribute much to the world and that other people do more useful work.

IDEAL SELF is your idea of the person you are working towards becoming. The better, stronger version of you. “I want to be a full-time artist someday,” is an example of an ideal self. So is “I wish I could shake this damn writer’s block.”

Another useful way of looking at the self is to break it down further into the essential and the social self. Martha Beck describes them as follows:

Your essential self formed before you were born, and it will remain until you’ve shuffled off your mortal coil. It’s the personality you got from your genes: your characteristic desires, preferences, emotional reactions, and involuntary physiological responses, bound together by an overall sense of identity. It would be the same whether you’d been raised in France, China, or Brazil, by beggars or millionaires. It’s the basic you, stripped of options and special features. It is “essential” in two ways: first, it is the essence of your personality, and second, you absolutely need it to find your North Star.

The social self, on the other hand, is the part of you that developed in response to pressures from the people around you, including everyone from your family to your first love to the pope. . . . We’re all literally designed to please others. . . . Unlike your essential self, which is the same regardless of culture, your social self was shaped by cultural norms and expectations. (from Finding Your Own North Star)

When the gap between the essential self and the social self gets too wide, that’s when you start to have problems. You get sick, depressed, and cut off from your own wisdom and vitality.

This course will be an exploration of your essential artistic self ~ your traits for creative expression that are immutable. You’re going to see how “artist” is hard-wired into who you are, that you couldn’t stop being an artist if you tried. I trust that, when you see that truth, it will clear away doubts about your right to live and work as an artist.

You’ll see the places where your social self is out of whack with your essential self, where you’ve contorted yourself in unhealthy ways to fit expectations.

And from there, you can start changing your self-assessments, your self-concept, maybe even your ideal self, so that they line up better with your essential self. (I’m making this sound clinical, but it will likely be organic and even fun in the context of our conversations together.)

The end result is that who you think you are will be closer to who you actually are. And since our thoughts shape our feelings and actions, you should naturally find yourself making different choices, taking different actions, and accessing more positive emotions.

All of that will be the bedrock of designing a more art-committed life.

Sound intriguing? Get on my mailing list if you’d like news of the next iteration of Map Your Artistic DNA.

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