Embracing transformation: Hitting reset on a puzzling identity crisis
Plan Your Next #140
👋 Good morning from Los Angeles! I'm Nate Kadlac, and this is #140 of Plan Your Next. A Sunday newsletter that connects design, creativity, and how you prepare for your next thing.
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Hitting reset on a puzzling identity crisis
What holds many people back from chasing their next idea is the perception of how people will view you when trying something new. It held me back for much longer than it should have.
If you’re in a full-time role, there’s a chance your title aligns with your identity. If you’re like me, you have kept it up for years, maybe decades. This comfortable identity is like a 50-piece puzzle. The image of who you are is like a simple image on a puzzle box. The image is baked into your brain, and requires no effort to assemble the pieces.
“Oh hey, I’m Nate, a brand and product designer for over 18 years.”
That line rolls right off the tongue and was my go-to response when people asked what I do. The only complicated part was trying to figure out the math of the total number of years.
(It’s probably wrong.)
If you have never tried to escape this one-line opener, you might be underestimating how difficult it is to let go of that line. You have spent years cultivating and establishing your authority in a particular space. No one wants to hear you’re in your 30s, 40s, or 50s and trying something new!
Oh shit, can I even call myself a writer? I’m a fraud!
Thankfully, there’s a way through this mess. Here are a few things I have done to help broaden what was possible.
Introduce yourself with curiosity
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve responded, “I’m a designer” to the question, “what do you do?” It’s easy to put on that comfy, old, t-shirt with those explicit words embroidered into the left corner of your tee. A tee that feels safe, and reliable.
Years of people repeating back to me what I do create a fixed image of how I expect to be portrayed.
But take your profession out of the picture, and think about another perspective to describe yourself.
One way to lead with more curiosity is to let people know what you want to be doing.
For a year, I started telling people, “I’m doing a bit more writing online, and started a newsletter recently.” Just revealing a little insight into what I was aiming for redirected the conversation in a different direction altogether.
Don’t worry, you’ll still have time to circle back around to your 50-piece puzzle and explain how much experience you have at design.
Join an online community
If you believe in the idea you’re the average of the five people closest to you—and you’re unhappy with who you’re hanging around—you need some new friends.
Before leaving my last role, I joined a number of paid and free communities to meet a different set of people to surround myself with. This gave me the advantage of introducing myself to people who forever changed how I viewed myself.
Here are a few communities that I immersed myself in, and the role they played:
Before I even knew what a learning community was, I signed up with Farnam Street for their virtual book club. Before long, I was digging into their forums and having conversations with people about similar book interests, from all over the world.
I never really took full advantage of Farnam Street, but it gave me a glimpse into how accessible a bunch of intellectually curious and creative people hung out.
Pegged as an online course for writing, Write of Passage is much more than that. I signed up quickly in the summer of 2020, and my life never looked the same. It was my introduction to Zoom breakout rooms, 1:1 chats, feedback on my writing, and a community of aspiring writers who were trying to figure it all out.
This course/community helped me breathe some life back into my own puzzle.
Founded by Anne-Laure LeCunff, this online community was one of the earliest paid communities I joined. I was a fan of Anne-Laure’s writing, and it led me to her part of the internet where there were a number of people who cared about creativity, productivity, and building businesses.
Quickly, I connected with someone much smarter and wiser () then I could ever hope to be, and we started to co-host weekly sessions on all things newsletters.
Co-hosting these sessions with Steven gave me a space to help others with design, in a fundamentally new way I hadn’t ever considered. Design was still a part of my fabric, but not in the same way it had been years prior.
Started recently by—author of The Pathless Path—Find the Others is a new community bringing together people looking for their new path. I met Paul in early 2021, and he’s been an advocate of mine since the first day.
Bouncing between communities is like bouncing between jobs. Your value is always increasing based on your past experience, but sometimes it’s not clear until you immerse yourself in a new job with new colleagues.
I believe it’s important to move around to realize how much you’ve grown, and how much impact you can have on others. Your surface area is always increasing, and that 10,000-piece puzzle is starting to fill itself in.
Update your personal website with personality
For years, I owned kadlac.com and used it for showcasing my design portfolio. While this is fine, it’s much more interesting to find ways to highlight everything else you’re curious about.
What inspires you? What are you chasing? What books are you reading? Give us a glimpse into your curiosity, and let us define you by a new script that you’re not used to.
Personally, it’s more fun to highlight the edges of your interests. We don’t always need to cater to who we want to get paid by.
Professionally, it sets you apart from other candidates by having a small piece of real estate online. I once helped a friend land a job across the country with a video showcasing his hilarious personality, just because it helped him stand out from everyone else.
Embrace the weirdness.
Start a podcast with a friend you just met
While co-hosting the newsletter meetup with Ness Labs early on, I happened to meet. He’s a talented marketer, writer, and one of my best friends (although we’ve never met).
We hit it off immediately and decided to spin up a podcast together because we both happened to have a couple of good mics. As simple as that.
Starting a podcast with Reza re-shaped how I viewed myself, and I owe a lot of my own clarity of my puzzled identity to our time recording the pod.
It gave us an opportunity to interview people we admire, and to further push the boundaries of who we thought we were.
Start a newsletter
This is a hill I’ll die on, but it’s one of the easiest ways to demonstrate your thinking publicly.
It’s also a way to test out your ideas, reach a new audience, and let your identity grow in ways you never imagined.
The 50-piece puzzle is holding you back
The combination of these small maneuvers helped me cross the bridge from who I was to who I wanted to be. At the risk of fitting the cliche Marie Kondo into my plan, it’s also a much more interesting life to chase the things that bring you joy.
If you want to have the confidence of chasing something new, try replacing the puzzle you can do blindfolded, and opt for one that is pieced together with blind curiosity.
⚡️ Three creative hits for you to check out next
📕 Nick Huber (The Sweaty Startup) is writing about entrepreneurship in public
I’m sure this has been done before, but I love the idea of writing a book in public. What better way to hold yourself accountable and get feedback from others?
🍗 The Meater: This looks incredibly designed. And who doesn't love cooking in style? (via)
👨👩👧👧 A collection of articles on parenting: Every dad should have a resource page like this.has created a concise list here, and I really enjoyed this particular piece on why fathers should take a mini-adventure with their children early on.