Have you ever met someone for the first time, and they already knew who you are and what you do?

It’s strange. You feel almost famous.

You’re known.

But it makes sense, if you think about it. All the times you tell one friend about another friend of yours, someone they’ve never met. Or you’re on social media, and you keep seeing this face pop up in pictures. It’s not someone you met, but you know their face. You know their name (or handle or whatever).

Maybe you’ve clicked through to their profile, and you form an idea of who they are.

They become known to you, even though you don’t “know” them.

Right now, there are people around you that you’ve never met who have some vague idea of who you are. What you like. What you do.

Your friends and your family, even people you don’t really care for are talking about you to other people. You are popping up in social media feeds of strangers. Things you’re saying and doing are being shared, reposted, and retweeted across the internet for countless others to see.

The question is, what is all of this saying about you? What picture do your everyday actions create?

I know, we’re not supposed to care about what other people think but…

This is different. It runs deeper. It’s not just what people think about the things you like or how you dress or how much money you have.

It’s how they’re defining you as a person, and what you’re doing to contribute to that. It’s your living legacy. If you died right now, it would be your lasting impression for all the people you never met directly.

And so, I think it’s worth asking…

What are you known for?

How do others describe you when talking to people you’ve never met?

“Oh yeah, Greg? Greg is hilarious! Seriously the funniest guy. Always has a story or a joke.”

“Whitney makes bad decisions, and then wonders why her life sucks.”

“Beth is such a good songwriter. She’s going to be huge someday.”

“Phil drinks and smokes. All the time. All you need to know about Phil.”

“Rachel is a dreamer and one of the most encouraging people I know. I wouldn’t be what I am today without her.”

“Taylor is nice but has zero ambition and lays in bed all day.”

This isn’t how the fringe people around you describe you. It’s how your own friends and family will sum you up. It might be all you get. One little line of biography to provide context for your entire life.

You think to yourself well that’s not fair!

And it’s not…except it kind of is. Sure, some people just don’t like you, and they’re going to throw you under the bus no matter what you do. And there are people out there doing amazing things that no one knows about because they keep their lives or actions privatized.

That’s completely fine.

But for most of us, our little piece of the world is taking the most standout trait/action/habit/passion/characteristic that we consistently display, and using that to create our identity.

That means you directly affect what you’re known for by how you live your life. What you invest your time in. Where you go. Even what you spend your money on.

You can control other people’s perspectives of your life by actually investing in that thing (or things) you want to be known for. You hold this amazing power to shape perceptions around you.

So the question that remains is…

What do you want to be known for?

When a friend is describing you, or someone is creeping on your social media, what are the defining traits you want to be associated with? What are your passions?

Are you a caring person? A loyal friend? A musician? A dreamer?

A year or two ago, I was regularly frustrated because I’d be talking to someone I knew, and they had no idea that I wrote. That I wanted to be a writer. That I went to college to be a writer and create things. Really, they didn’t know much of anything I wanted to do with my life.

People may have known I loved movies, but did they know I dreamed of writing my own?

If they went through my Instagram, they’d see that I love going to concerts, but did they know about my own desire to perform?

How would they? I hadn’t performed in anything publicly for years. My writings and blogging had largely fallen to the wayside. I was doing little in the way of things I wanted to be known for, and what I was doing was being kept to myself.

Slowly, but surely, I’ve spent the past two years changing that. When people ask what I do, I say I’m a writer, first and foremost. And to prove it, I put out an actual print book. I mean, I didn’t publish it just to prove I’m a writer…but you get the point.

It doesn’t stop there.

In every action, word, post, etc., I try to be myself, unashamedly. I talk about the nerdy things I love. I bring up my theatrical past. I admit to working on songwriting, and I’ve even started to share some things with select people.

It’s terrifying.

But necessary.

I’m not sure you can be known for much of anything worthwhile until you embrace the identity you long to have. But in order to embrace it, you have to actually start living it out in front of others.

It sounds like a paradox, but really, it’s just a process. And when you start doing it, the doubts of what you are start to fade. You become more confident in your identity. You feel motivated to follow through with this image you’re displaying.

I’m not saying you need to stress over what the world thinks of you or pretend to be someone you’re not. All I’m saying is, if you’re known for the wrong things, take a look at why that might be. 

Maybe it’s just because you’re not speaking up. Or maybe it’s because you’re not actually living the life you’re supposed to be living. Either way, those are things that you have the power to change.

So change.

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by Timothy Snyder