The gap between who I saw myself as and who I actually was used to frustrate me, infuriate me, play games with my mind. More than once, realizing that my immediate reality didn’t match the identity I’d so carefully formed and convinced myself was real led me down some heady crises-like rabbit holes.

It wasn’t until I came across a comment madeĀ  on this lagging effect identity has on one’s life (on the Modern Wisdom podcast) that the gap made sense.

The theory: When you adopt or embody an identity, it takes roughly 2-3 years to become reality.

An example: When I first came across freelance writing, it took 2-3 months to get “sold” on the idea that it’s something worth pursuing. Once that decision was made, I went from “Freelancing looks cool, how does it work?” to “I’m a freelance writer, and I’d earn a living writing for clients.” But it wasn’t until 18 months after that first identity switch was turned on that I was actually living it out, landing clients worth keeping long-term and who loved my work.

Could I have sped up the process? Probably, if I’d approached freelancing as a full-time job and less of a part-time hobby the way I did. Is 2-3 years a fail-safe measure? No: I’m still waiting to see the results of a few other areas of life that’re reaching their third or fourth year. Does identity really affect one’s reality that directly? I’m not sure.

But it seems like this force runs deeper and stronger than I was previously aware of.

Who you decided to be might be years ago might be someone vastly different from who you want to be today; yet because reality is always playing catch-up to the entirety of how you see yourself (past, present, and future), you may be experience internal and external tension from being who you thought you were years ago, while you’re not yet who you think you are now.

To complicate matters, people’s perceptions of you, and yours of them, seem to operate on similar timelines as well; whereas our clearest ideas of who others are and what they are like are actually a collage of who they were over the past while (usually a couple years, if we know them that long), not necessarily who they are now or even who they’ve morphed into the past year.

So in a sense, we’re all living in the present as past selves, who have been in the making years ago. (Come to think of it, ideas work pretty much the same way: many good ones stay as an idea for years until it is actualized, out of sheer necessity.)

Not to say it’s either a good or bad thing. It simply is. And it’s not necessarily something we could change either (besides the surface-level, external, and superficial aspects of what some might consider part of their identity), at least not easily.

To take Descartes out of context, he’s partially right in saying “I think, therefore I am.” It’s more like “I think I am, therefore I will be.”

Or maybe I’m overthinking what the “I” is. Maybe it’d be easier to just accept who you are and work with that.

But having discovered how powerful self-perception is compounded over time (and accepting that the gap is part of the process), my comfortability and contentment with being myself has grown–but also have the expectations, responsibilities, and ambitions I now carry with me.

As I watch myself become the me I’ve envisioned over the years, life carries a deeper sense of stability, direction, and “beingness” than I’ve experienced with materialistic external life changes, or short-term intense “change your life in three weeks” programs.

And I’m thankful for it.

(And in case you’re wondering: this post is not a long-winded excuse for my lack-luster performance on the projected goals for each month on my /now page.)

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