“It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who has been swimming naked.”
Straight from God’s Lips (i.e. Warren Buffet) to my ears.
And boy did we see a naked swimmer this week.
Sam Bankman-Fried (known in crypto circles as SBF) flew his firm (FTX) a bit too close to the sun.
And he got burnt.
It cost him nearly $16 billion of his personal wealth.
I don’t know SBF, nor do I really have a horse in the race. (He does have these cute chubby cheeks that I can picture his grandma squeezing). But I kept thinking back to articles I read barely a month ago about how SBF was going to change the game.
Having survived the first downturn of Crypto Winter 2.0, the 30 year old former Jane Street trader turned crypto wunderkind drew some magnanimous comparisons. He was “The JP Morgan of crypto. He was reshaping the Democratic Party. He was creating an entirely new playbook for philanthropy.
Until he got caught skinny dipping with the sharks.
Now I’m not going to write about risk management, bank runs or billionaires with huge egos.
Instead, I want to deconstruct identities. And what happens when you blow them up.
Identity as a calling card
Nearly 8 years after leaving finance, I still cling to an identity that expired when I walked out of BlackRock’s Park Avenue offices.
I was a Managing Director.
Now for those of you who are lucky enough to have never touched a financial services org chart, it’s a fancy title.
Managing Director is typically the highest title before you start having a “C” on your business card.
It’s so important to me that I have a digitized image of my last business card (just so I can use it in blog posts and presentations).
And when we’re out at the kids’ PTA party or meeting some new dads on a YMCA camping trip, somehow I always find a way to “let it slip” that I was a Managing Director.
(My wife, if present, is always points out, “Was that necessary?”)
The title doesn’t serve me anymore. In fact, it’s well past its expiry date.
Yet why do I still use it?
Because it’s a known identity. In my eyes, it still holds status. It implies things like, “Khe’s a smart dude.”
You can say that I’m attached to that identity.
So back to our mop-haired SBF. One can hypothesize that being proclaimed The JP Morgan of Crypto at age 30 can be an attractive identity.
Until it’s gone.
Identities are ephemeral
SBF reminded us that an identity can evaporate as quickly as it appeared.
And in my case, my unwillingness to let go of Managing Director reeks of desperation.
Let’s take another example of an identity that fades: being young.
Now, I know there are some Silicon Valley nut jobs freezing their blood and stools in the pursuit of eternal life.
But putting them aside, we all love to feel young. To be young.
Being young comes with so many benefits.
Full heads of hair.
Soft and wrinkle-free skin.
Bodies that recover swiftly after an injury.
The ability to eat whatever we want, with zero consequence (and zero pills).
Then one day, it comes.
Alas, we are no longer “young” in our own eyes.
Being young is such a powerful – yet fleeting – identity.
And so many of us cling to that identity with fervor – refusing to let nature have its way with us.
But because time never stops moving, identities are by definition fleeting.
I struggle with knowing that one day (probably quite soon), I’ll be bald.
I’m clinging to the identity of “having hair.”
Today, I have a six-pack. Yet one day, I won’t be fit.
And then another day, I’ll be frail.
(But lucky me, I’ll probably have a window of being fit and bald!)
One day, when my cognitive abilities start to fail me, I will no longer be “smart.”
One day, I may no longer be “a husband” – instead “a widower.”
I know that clinging to these identities brings internal conflict. It brings me a lot of pain.
I saw Simon Cowell at a store recently. He was unrecognizable.
I always fancied him a handsome chap (who in my mind, would age well) but this felt so tragic.
Can we let go of identities?
When I left BlackRock, I blew up my identity.
I was no longer “Khe, the Managing Director” and had to swim naked until I became “Khe from RadReads.”
But what would happen if we stopped chasing these convenient “identity containers” and let our actions shine for themselves?
Instead of being fit, we just lived actively.
Instead of having hair, we lived honoring our inner beauty.
What if we leaned into the ephemeral nature of life? Instead of constantly fighting it.
PS Supercharge your Productivity is the only course that connects “being more productive” to life’s larger questions. Yup, many students have taken the course only to blow up their own identities. Enroll today and get Instant Access to the course and snag a seat in January’s 2024 cohort.