Self VS Identity

I’ve spent the past 8 months building a persona “TheWizardLlewyn.”  He is a live-streamer on twitch that plays video games, creates video games, tells stories, and runs an interactive storytelling system.  In many ways, he is me.  His stories are mine, his experiences are mine, but in many ways he is not me.

To explain a bit better, I must share a funny story from the other day when I was signing Dexter – my 4 year old – up for the next season of “Story Time” at the library.  I had to fill out a form with a bunch of information.  Son’s name – nailed it.  Son’s birthday – nailed that one too.  Library card number – I cheated and looked at my library card, but still answered correctly.  Then I got to the hard question.   “Your name.”  Easy, right?  Want to know what I wrote?  “Daddy.”  Ok – to be truthful, I stopped at “Da” but you get the picture.  I spend tons of time with my son, to the point where I think of myself as “Daddy.”

I do my best to be a good role model, so as Daddy, I don’t curse, I talk through my frustrations, I shy away from adult topics, and I constantly promote healthy eating and habits.  What I also do is censor myself – quite a bit.  When he acts inappropriately – but in a funny way (kids are masters of this) I prevent myself from laughing and try to tell him what he did wrong.  When a funny situation arises where the humor would be above his head or something I would be embarrassed about him repeating – I won’t say it.  From my experience, this is pretty normal parent behavior (although some parents are a little less censored than others).

Add to this my professional persona.  In 2010, I started writing as a journalist, and speaking at conferences.  In attempts to differentiate myself (and not simply by my baby-face that often was a point of teasing) I decided to dress to the nines.  I would wear black dress pants, white-button down shirt, suspenders, suit (if cold), and a nice hat.  All this while others were mainly in business casual.  Thankfully, it was well appreciated, and for many has been seen as part of who I am.  In fact, I’ve had certain colleagues fail to recognize me while I was wearing regular clothes and no hat.

The personality that someone knows you by – that persona – is a powerful thing.  If it remains consistent, it makes people at ease.  People like to know what they can expect, it makes them comfortable.  But what happens when different personas collide?  When professional colleagues tune in to watch Superhero Delivery Service?  When Dexter gets old enough to watch one of my streams – or watch a youtube video I made?

I’ve actually spent a great amount of time figuring out what my personas would be.  My vocabulary, my reactions to certain situations, and my clothes have been thought about in advanced.  When thinking about streaming – I’ve always wanted to be PG, inclusive, and as funny as I could be without being offensive (BTW – Most really funny jokes are offensive to someone.  I have nothing wrong with that, and love comedians like Chris Rock, Robin Williams, etc, but that’s not the type of humor I’d want to do on my channel).

All of these personas are technically me.  None of them are disingenuous, but the struggle I’ve been having recently is – as these other personas take up more and more of my time/life – will it absorb my self?  Which begs the question – who am I?  As I’ve learned through the years, who I am can and does change (thankfully I’ve been able to change for the better and shed some of my more obnoxious traits).  But I think of myself as the words I want to say, but swallow.  For example, when the kids are playing at the park, and one of them says something horrible (not realizing what it really meant) and I want to blurt out “that’s what she said.”  Or even being able to play something like “Cards Against Humanities.”  While I can play that in private, I can’t possibly imagine playing it on stream – or the repercussions it might have to my streaming persona or my business one (some argue it would boost my stream, but is my business persona ready for that?  No.)

It seems a trend – I’ve had a handful of discussions lately with different people about a struggle for identity.  Friends questioning their gender identity, their sexual orientation, their motivations, you name it.  Feeling alone in their struggle was a common thread – as if they were the only ones struggling with identity.  In fact, many times in my life I felt as if I was struggling with my identity – both who I was and who I wanted to be.  Maybe it is wisdom, or maybe just years of reading Taoist and Buddhist writings, but I’ve come to see this process and both completely normal and an exciting part of life.  Instead of a crisis of self – I now see an exciting opportunity to pick whatever path I want.  Additionally, I’ve learned that knowing yourself fully is not a requirement to being happy – and often knowing yourself does not mean putting a label on, or putting yourself in a box, but being comfortable with your choices and actions.