When you have figured out what your goal is, you should spend all your energy on reaching that goal, right? Yes and No. You should always strive to move towards it, but activities that may not seem to move you closer in the short run, may keep you from stumbling and rolling backwards in the long run. Identity diversification helps iron out the ups and downs of a stressful career or endeavor.
If your goal is to travel around the world, you of course need some money. But what you do not need is to buy a house or get a full-time job. Unless the full-time job is a short term way earn money. You probably do not need to look for a steady relationship either, unless you plan on bringing him/her along.
If your goal on the other hand is to start a company or try to reach a certain position within your current one, then traveling the world for half a year may certainly not bring you any closer to that goal.
You could argue that in order to be successful you need to spend all your waking hours working towards your goal. This is the goal you want to achieve — so more time and energy invested must equal more achieved — well not always. If you are building a pyramid and laying bricks, then yes — the more bricks you lay each day, the closer you will get to completion. But most endeavors are not that straight forward. Must are somewhat one step forward — then two back, two steps in the other direction — then one back etc. etc.
This is where identity diversification comes into play.
If you derive all your happiness and feeling of achievement from one source, you could potentially dig yourself down into a very deep hole, in times where your company are struggling or your goal seems far away. And trust me – there will be days where you and your company are struggling. If you have given up all your leisure activities in order to spend 16 hours a day on your start-up, then you are signing up for some very dark days when things go bad — coupled with having getting rid of all your non-startup friends, then you have set yourself up for a really depressing circle-jerk with similar friends all discussing how bad and hard you feel.
What you should do on the other hand is Identity diversification. Not only be Mr. Startup, but also be Mr. Fitness, Ms. Dancer, Mr. Painter or whatever you may have of interests. These may seem like distractions when everything go according to plan, but once things start to get hard and against the plan they can be your savior.
Let’s say you have had a very bad day because all the sales leads you tried this day failed. You feel somewhat down, but still go out the door to join the weekly swim-session and your mates there. You are not that much in the mood for talking, because of this burning feeling inside of failure.
Then comes the timing of your 50 meter crawl. You just propel all your anger out in each stroke even though you really do not feel like swimming at all. But wait, what!? The most strange thing happens; you end up beating your lifetime best, which you have tried to do all year.
Now this is a good day!
What before looked to be a bad day ends up being a good one. Your business-ego may have taken a beating, but as your swimming is completely unrelated, it does not in anyway dilute the awesome feeling of reaching a personal best.
Identity diversification my friend.
It is very important to ensure that not all your sense of worth and identity comes from one source. New fresh ideas does not spring from beating the same thing over and over again. They stem from times where your mind has time to connect the dots and think of other things.
The example above could have been anything from you being a good spouse, sprinter, weightlifter or whatever. The entire point is to not derive all your sense of worth from one source. Whatever that source or sources are does not matter as long as it is something completely unrelated to your primary goal.
As an anecdote I nearly wrote of my gymnastics, because the cost would take a few weeks of cash away, in a time where we were running on empty in my start-up, and had no direct source for future income. But as I thought about it, it just made me so sad to think of all the good times and people I would miss by saying no to gymnastics. I luckily came to the conclusion that a happy and sane version of myself would out-work and out-smart a slightly depressed version of me – by an order of magnitude more than what I would save by saying no. The people I am around during gymnastics is by no means going to help my company — but that is somehow part of the point. It makes me relax and think of other things which makes me way more productive when I return.
Your main priority, whether you are a founder of a start-up, a CEO, a father or an athlete is keeping yourself sane and feeling great — once you do that, you can perform at your best. Identity diversification helps you achieve this and makes you more resilient to setbacks.