Pigeonholed

Sometimes you do something for a long time without really meaning to.

It’s okay – some functions of your life have to be on auto-pilot. If you put conscious effort into every single decision every single day you’ll burn out incredibly quickly. But the balance is tough to strike, and often people end up putting too much of their lives on auto-pilot before deciding they want to make a change.

Change is good and you shouldn’t be scared of it. Often a major change comes with a decrease in a current level of something you want, but also a big rate of increase in that same thing.

A typical example is salary. You might make $100k a year currently, but your salary growth is a steady 1% annually. If you took a different job it might pay only $70k, but if it had a 10% annual growth rate, it wouldn’t take long before you’d be doing much better than before. You can replace “salary” with more intangible things, too – happiness, stress levels, prestige, etc. Sometimes you have to give up a little of your static benefit in order to invest in trajectory.

I hear pretty often that people don’t want to be “pigeonholed” or put into one specific box; they want to be seen as multi-faceted. But meanwhile, the thing people are labeling them with is the only thing they talk about; it’s their whole life. I’ll say, “Hey, if you don’t want to be seen as just ‘the web developer guy,’ then stop talking about that.” And they’ll respond that web development is 95% of their skill set, years of experience, etc., and that without it they don’t have anything.

That might be the choice you have to make! If you want the benefit that twenty years’ experience gets you in social capital, you have to accept what that twenty years was spent doing. You can look for transferable skills and adjacent experiences, but it’s still twenty years’ experience in those things. If you want people to see you for your modern art, then that’s what you have to talk about, even if you’ve only been doing that for a month.

You may have to give up some of your static reputation, some of your static identity even. And it’s natural to be wary of that, but of course it’s exactly the crucial ingredient in change. In exchange, you get a new trajectory, the ability to invest in a new style of identity and reputation, unfettered by the box that everyone has built around your old one.

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