fate, ripped abs + the lie behind self-improvement
My friend and trainer told me a story from when he was living and dating in New York.
He was working as a male model and acting in commercials. He didn’t like telling strangers this when they asked the “what do you do?” question because he found the consequent conversation (“Have I seen you in anything?”) awkward and tedious. (“Well, I was in a New York Times commercial…I was the guy reading the sports section….”)
So when women asked him what he did, he told them, “I’m a dentist.”
“Oh,” they would say, and drop the subject.
One night he hit it off with a French ballerina passing through town. They went back to his place. They got really, really friendly. She ripped open his shirt, saw his ripped abs, and said in her thick French accent, “You’re no dentist!”
And he had to admit that he wasn’t.
I like this story partly because I like what it says about identity, how it’s written right into your body. We often say, in this culture of obsessive self-improvement, “You can be anybody you want to be” – but I don’t think that’s true.
In his book FATE AND DESTINY, Michael Meade defines ‘fate’ as the cross-section of genetics, environment and events that shapes our possibilities. We are born into a very particular set of limitations and gifts. If we accept our limitations (“I am highly disorganized”) and develop our gifts (“I am highly creative”), we can come to a strongly grounded sense of who we’re meant to be and what we’re meant to do in this lifetime. But it’s not a matter of becoming anybody you want to be – because you can only become more (or less) of what you already are.
It’s more a matter of, as Hugh MacLeod likes to say, remembering who you are. And a big part of that is remembering who you are not.
You’re no dentist.
Remembering is necessary because You can be anybody you want to be has a way of turning into You can be who you’re supposed to be. It’s the box that you’re supposed to fit into. You’re a girl – or a boy – so you’re supposed to be and act a certain way. You’re a member of this family or that culture so you’re supposed to behave and believe and choose your goals accordingly.
You can be anybody you want to be has a way of turning into You can be anybody that they want you to be.
And you can’t.
But when you rip open that shirt to find the ripped abs of truth – when you remember who you are – the question then becomes: Do you declare yourself?
Or do you keep yourself in hiding to avoid uncomfortable conversations?
Problem is when we role-play, we start to believe what we thought we were only pretending.
The truth of who we are slips away. We forget ourselves all over again.
Say it enough times and you might start to think that you are, in fact, a dentist. Until life finds some way to tell you otherwise.