Agnes Callard, Aspiration:

We aspire by doing things, and the things we do change us so that we are able to do the same things, or things of that kind, better and better. In the beginning, we sometimes feel as though we are pretending, play-acting, or otherwise alienated from our own activity. We may see the new value as something we are trying out or trying on rather than something we are fully engaged with and committed to.

How do you become someone else? You do the things that the kind of person you want to be, would do.

At first this feels unnatural. You feel like a child, sometimes repeating words and phrases without fully grasping the depth of meaning behind them. It is not you, not yet. It is a bootstrapping process: you cannot do the thing fully without being the desired-end-state-person, and yet you cannot be that person without mastering the activity.

This theory appeals to me. I refer often to Callard’s piece Against Advice, which points out that writers often give the advice “write a lot”. This advice sounds useless but of course it is the only way to become a writer.

I wonder how this relates to labels. At what point in the journey do you begin to call yourself a writer, or an entrepreneur, or a beekeeper? When does that new garment stop being itchy, or shrink to fit? What can you do to pull the tag off? And what happens when you desire the destination but not the associated label? I think people differ: some adopt the label to convince themselves that they are “permitted” to do the activity, but for me the label comes last, if at all.

To wit: I don’t think of myself as a programmer even though I’ve been paid to write code (among other things) for nearly a decade. I do in some sense aspire to be a programmer. I like some of the values, and strive towards them in some parts of my life. Some of this discomfort likely comes from the sense that once you label your identities the list becomes mutually exclusive and/or collectively exhaustive. You can be an extrovert, a dancer, a knitter and a Star Wars fan. But can you be all four at once? If you describe yourself with that list, do you come to forget the parts of yourself not listed?

Labels are like affordances for other people – if they don’t want to get to know you, labels let them understand you a little better, on the surface level. Do you care about being legible to others? Or do you want them to have to put in the work? Would you rather be ignored or misunderstood?