More To That

An illustrated, long-form blog that delves deeper into the things that make us who we are.

The Embrace of Agency

Someone recently asked me when I became a writer. I hadn’t put much thought into that inquiry before, but I felt compelled to address it. After a brief pause, I replied, “I became a writer when I told myself that I was a writer.”

That response may sound like a quip, but smuggled within its brevity is an accurate depiction of the truth.

Oftentimes, it feels like we need some clear signal to embody an identity. Perhaps you feel like you need to have written at least a hundred essays before you can assert that you’re a writer. Or that you need to have achieved a certain revenue figure to declare that you’re an entrepreneur. There’s this feeling that you need to hit certain milestones to give yourself permission to state that you are a specific thing.

In some cases, this is sensical. For example, physicians must undergo rigorous training in order to append a few letters to their names. This is something that’s required for the safety of their patients, as no one would want a random person operating on them. Declaring that you’re a doctor without accumulating the requisite experience is fraudulent at best, and fatal at worst. The same goes for nurses, veterinarians, or any other profession where lives are being entrusted in your hands.

But in the realm of art, this adherence to progression is not required. In fact, it’s a liability, as the belief that you need to hit certain milestones to become an artist is one of the main reasons why people stop creating in the first place. Art is one of those domains where your identity is constructed the moment you decide to embody it. When you believe that you are what you aspire to be, then the creative landscape opens up to all kinds of possibilities.

With that said, it’s important to emphasize that last word: possibilities. Embodying an identity reveals the possibilities, but it’s only through sheer action and repetition where you actualize those opportunities. You can assert that you’re a writer, but if you rarely write, then the anchor of self-deception will weigh you down. It’s easy to tell yourself that you’re an artist, but your identity will feel like a lie if it refuses to enter the realm of action. And one can only lie to themselves for so long before their identity crumbles before their eyes.

When I told myself that I was a writer, it wasn’t because I hit a subscriber milestone or published a certain number of posts. No, it was because I realized that I loved the craft, and that I was going to convert the energy of that love into stories that required countless hours of my time. I understood that being a writer meant that I would regularly attempt to make sense of the human condition, which would make me a clearer thinker and a more compassionate person. Given the importance of these values, I knew that I would follow everything up with action, and that each piece I wrote would further reinforce my identity as a writer.

That’s both the beautiful and daunting thing about art. The only permission you require is that which you give yourself, and the only roadblock you face is that which you’ve placed yourself. Only you can decide when you’ve become an artist, and only you can overcome the self-doubt that prevents you from being what you believe you are. But if you regularly face that obstacle and forge ahead, then that very motion creates a beautiful feedback loop: You grow confident that you are what you’ve declared, and that energizes you to create things that further reinforces that confidence.

It’s this embracing of agency that gives creativity its resonance. The ability to select our own identities is why millions of people pin it as their north star of personal values. But at the same time, agency also means that it’s up to you to actualize what you know you can be. The question is whether this reality feels empowering or daunting, and your answer to that will determine just how brilliantly your identity can shine.


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If you want to learn how to write posts like the one I shared above, check out The Examined Writer. It’s 3 hours of self-paced material, all designed to elevate your writing practice.
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For more stories and reflections of this nature:

The Arc of the Practical Creator

Creativity Starts Before Anything Is Made

The Tension Between Art and Money

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