This belief that I do therefore I am has guided me for most of my life.
My identity has been and still is strongly associated with what I have done in the past, what I am presently doing and what I am capable of doing in the future.
I do therefore I am.
From a young age, I can only imagine that as I began to show some initiative, it was recognized and rewarded by those around me. It is probably easier to raise a child that is able to do his own homework, make his own breakfast & lunch, clean up after himself and be generally independent. That was me. That is still me. I unknowingly learned at a young age that I do therefore I am.
Through middle school and high school, I identified most with what I did. The activities, like student government. I did not identify with the friends that I had, as I had many, and still do. I did not identify with the movies, sports, music or video games of the time, as I was uninterested in all of it. I identified most with what I did. I took initiative and got good grades.
This momentum of doing lifted me through university. I continued to show initiative and started student groups, ran conferences and organized people.
I do therefore I am.
While family and friends recognized me at an early age, schools and institutions began to recognize me through grade school. The awards each year began to pile up and became an expectation. The scholarships also began to add up.
In the early years of starting my business, the media began to recognize me. Countless cover stories appeared in the newspaper portraying a kid out of school, son of immigrants, at a time before it was cool for young people to start companies. It must have been a relatively uneventful period in history, as the stories were just that, stories.
As my business started to grow, the industry recognition began. The fastest, youngest, best this, that and the other. Like any substance use disorder or addiction, after some time, I became numb to it all.
The recognition that I have received from a young age through to adulthood from parents, teachers, media and industry causes me to pause and wonder if it all has been helpful or hurtful.
The answer is both. There is no such thing as a one-sided coin.
The recognition helps with visibility, to attract resources like talent and capital, to help manifest my vision. The recognition also hurts when I am distracted by it, when I choose to identify with it, or worse of all, when I actually believe it.
I do therefore I am.
I see now that the reason that I believe this is because that is the culture and society in which I have grown up in. We all have.
Recognition releases dopamine, the pleasure hormone, in my brain. Be it from receiving an industry award, making some arbitrary top list or having my photo in the newspaper. It’s all the same and it all feels good. However like all dopamine triggers, it is temporary and short-lived. It is also addictive.
Appreciation on the other hand releases serotonin, the happiness hormone, in my brain. Be it from sharing appreciation with others or receiving it, it also feels good, but in a different way than dopamine. Serotonin is long lasting and the benefits are felt in more places in my brain. It is the feeling I get when watching the sun set over the ocean or the quiet satisfaction from doing something that I find challenging. It is the feeling I get after writing each week.
Appreciation is most valuable when it is with people or passions that I feel most connected to. I appreciate the quiet mornings I can enjoy in meditation. I appreciate the family and friends that I can laugh with. I appreciate the intellectual stimulation from solving a complex business problem for my clients or with my team.
This understanding inspires me to make choices that prioritize serotonin over dopamine. When I scan my to do list, I can put the word serotonin or dopamine next to each one. It is clear what on that list will give me a temporary boost versus what will give me a long lasting satisfaction.
Last summer, as I was clearing out our office space to give it back to the landlord, I found a box of all the awards that I had received over the past decade. There were dozens of newspaper clippings, trophies, plaques and more. The things that would make any parent proud.
Despite moving offices several times over the past decade, this box of awards, filled with dust, seemed to follow me. I had a nostalgic moment and chose to indulge myself. I picked up one of the awards and tried to visualize who I was, where I was and how I was when it was given to me. I then realized that I no longer connected to or associated with that person or that moment.
I then gently put the awards back into the box and quietly placed the box next to all of the other boxes and bags that were to be thrown out. That was the moment I realized that I am no longer what I do.
“I do therefore I am” is like an embedded system in a computer. It is deep and at the core of everything. It will take time and support for me to build a new embedded system, to replace this older one.
I am as I am. This is what I am now starting to believe.