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The death of my identity

Back when I was a smoker (Marlboro Lights in a soft pack), an old family friend told me how hard it was for him to quit. Smoking’s not just a habit, he said, it’s an identity.

I sneered when he said it. Smoking didn’t define me, it was just something I did. But, I couldn’t get his words out of my head. And over the next few years, I started to wonder if he was right. I spent about 2 hours a day with a cigarette in hand. The habit determined who I took breaks with at work. It dictated the restaurants I went to, the friends I hung out with, the activities I liked doing, and — probably — the people who wanted to hang out with me.

Not only that, but there’s this unspoken philosophy that comes with every pack. It’s a live-in-the-moment, f*ck-it-all, tousled-hair, I’m-not-scared-of-anything-could-care-less-if-it-kills-me, burn-both-ends-of-the-candle philosophy. We never know when our number’s going to get called, so why not enjoy the shit out of life while we can? Pass me those matches, man.

To quit means rejecting that philosophy. It means that maybe you’re afraid of dying of lung cancer, after all.

Quitting comes with practical problems, too. You have to stop taking breaks with those old buddies at work. Good luck not offending them. Your bar friends step out on the patio to smoke, and there you are staring at the video poker machine like a tool. You wake up in the morning and your routine has to change. Your drive to work is different. So is your post-meal activity, your bedtime ritual, everything.

Quitting’s the death of one lifestyle and the start of another. My old family friend was right. When I quit, I was forging a new identity.

I sneered at what he said so long ago, and that should have been my clue. To paraphrase Mark Manson, the more uncomfortable something makes you, the more likely it is to be true.

What is an identity, after all, if it’s not a label for your habitual behaviors? Show me your habits, and I’ll show you who you are.

Fredrick Marion

Fredrick Marion

I like books that refuse to let you sleep at night. I like coffee, talking animals and hearing from readers. Sign up for my email newsletter, and I'll send my latest blog posts to your inbox!

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