Duality of Self

I received my first promotion in the fall of 2020. It was the first time I stayed in a job long enough to go through a promotion cycle. *oops*

Since graduating undergrad in 2017, I’ve had four jobs at three different companies.  That number would probably be even higher, if it weren’t for a rotational program that let me change roles every six months.

Why have I felt this need for change so early on in my career?

My desire for change is not the norm in my family or group of friends. My dad has worked as a Database Administrator for over 30 years, my brother is a dedicated physician, and my best friends have been at the same companies since we graduated. But what feels so unnatural to them is the exact rhythm of life that feels natural to me: periods of safety followed by periods of passion

I’ve noticed these conflicting desires create tension within me.

Lately, I’ve been feeding my safety-desiring self as Corporate Shiv far more than my passion-desiring self as Spontaneous Shiv. And when these contending desires are both me, I have a hard time grappling with what’s “more” me. Or at least, what’s “more” me right now.

Duality of Self

I’ve started referring to this tension as the duality of self. Right now, my duality of self revolves around my career: the battle between a corporate path and a non-traditional path. 

Despite this tension, I enjoy the comforts of modern life afforded to me by a cushy job. 

I want the freedom to buy my mom the latest Vitamix. To book that last minute trip to surprise my friend in Australia without thinking twice. To limit the burden of carving my own path, knowing that I can be deemed “successful” if I continue climbing this ladder. 

But I also desire the adventure of an unconventional life. 

I want to explore what success means when it’s not necessarily associated with wealth and a title. The freedom to learn how to surf incredibly well with no societally measured outcome. To take a few years to write a book or a script. To tackle a social issue and work tirelessly to make things just a little bit better.

Maybe you feel the tension created by the duality of self somewhere in your life as well. You’re an actuary who is exceptional with numbers, but whose true passion lies in teaching others. A consultant with more travel mileage and hotel points than you can count, but you’ve always been interested in working on a political campaign. 

The reason we feel this tension is because there are parts of ourselves — parts of our identity — that can feel like they’re in opposition. They create friction with one another. Think: Inside Out. 

These parts of ourselves don’t let us have a singular definition of who we are and what we want. Without this singularity, we are forced to make tradeoffs as all of this is a function of time. There’s a finite amount of time, and thus a limited number of ways we can spend it. 

Answering to Our Gods

In Carl Jung’s book The Undiscovered Self, he states “you can take away a man’s gods, but only to give him others in return”. This idea resonated with me as I was thinking about the tradeoffs we all make based on the different parts of our identity.

As Corporate Shiv, the “gods” that I answer to are money, my parents’ pride, security, etc. This version of myself is birthed by my upbringing. I can trace its roots to my parents’ immigrant background — their need for choosing the least risky options knowing that there is inherent risk underlying life in a new country. 

If I were to leave my corporate job, I used to believe that I’d feel weightless. That I wouldn’t have a boss to answer to. But Jung reminded me that I would simply have another set of gods that I’d start answering to. 

These gods might be things like reaching my full potential, creativity, contributing to society meaningfully, adventure, etc. The gods in this version come to me from a life of privilege compared to how my parents grew up. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, everything besides self-actualization was handed to me: food/water, shelter, safety, a loving home, etc. 

We all have stories like this — multiple pieces that make us who we are, and resultantly, multiple gods that we answer to. Since we’re always making tradeoffs towards one part of our identity or another, our gods are always changing. They adapt to the tradeoffs we make. For this reason, it can be incredibly difficult to accept, understand, and work with a multidimensional view of ourselves.

I’m left asking myself, how can I want things that are so diametrically opposed? Can’t I just pick one path and stick with it? Obviously not...looking at my professional track record. If I were to choose a single path and a single version of myself, what would that even be? Do I have to? Or is there a way to be both ‘this’ and ‘that’? To accept both versions of myself. How can I wrap my mind around that?

In my next post I’ll share a framework that I’ve been using to explore this tension that I feel within myself. But in the interim, what pieces of your identity do you feel are in conflict? Are there any that you’re grappling with right now? 

I’d love to hear from you. 

Drop me a line.



Stories by Shiv is part of Wayfinder, a writer collective exploring questions that matter.

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