Who are you, really?

This is primarily an analytics blog, but I’ve expanded my definition of “acceptable posts” a bit to include broader topics of interest to those in the industry. Part of being in any field is how we define ourselves in relation to it, and how attached we are (or aren’t) to our job. As humans, we tend to attach to temporary circumstances as if they were permanent, causing a lot of suffering when they are no longer around. We live in a rapidly changing industry, and our self-concept can suffer if we tie it to things that disappear.

How do you define yourself? Your job? The city you live in? Your home? Your marriage/relationship? Your dietary habits? Your family dynamic? Your possessions? Your pets? These are all impermanent. In fact, I’ve had total or partial losses or changes in every single one of these areas in 2020, and I’m still standing. That means that there is a part of me (and a part of you) that isn’t defined by any of these things, despite our insistence on introducing ourselves by these definitions. I didn’t disappear or fly away when all these things happened, which means who I am, and who you are, is larger than all of that.

The point of this post isn’t to dwell too long on my personally difficult year, but to illustrate that the things we think we depend on aren’t actually required for us to live a fulfilling life.

It’s easy to fall into alarmism these days – our whole field is seemingly at risk because of a browser change! Who’s down with ITP (yeah you know me?) Big companies are getting sued for privacy violations! CNAME records may be at risk! Webkit policies go brrrr! [Insert favorite extension here] is no longer available on the Chrome Web Store! Let’s take a deep breath and run some comparisons (and perhaps create a parody of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” while we’re at it).

Digital analytics as a field is constantly evolving. So many things that were “the death of analytics” have fallen flat, as have all previous predictions of the world at large ending. This is not to say that the industry is infallible by any stretch, or that it’s wrong to bring up potential big changes, but we can’t jump ahead to the worst conclusions before things are even productionalized. We also have to be realistic that entire industries transform unimaginably given sufficient time.

If, for example, analytics were forced to undergo a transformation as vast as the one from horse-drawn carriages to cars (or, more aptly, from slide rules to calculators), would this really be a bad thing? Innovation for innovation’s sake isn’t what I’m after, but innovation that moves the world forward and gets people to their intended result more quickly is a net positive. The first stage of innovation is upheaval and disruption of established norms. At this stage, everything looks crazy from the outside and the new method/product hasn’t achieved wide acceptance yet. As time passes and acceptance grows, some of the initially reticent people will come to accept it, followed by eventually the most skeptical. It’s all part of the product adoption curve, which can be applied to technologies/approaches in addition to actual products.

Most of the well-known writers in this industry are innovators/early adopters in terms of this curve. That means that they’re learning about things as they occur, and those things may or may not take off enough to reach full adoption. That’s part of why we can’t be overly alarmist each time something new comes down the line. It’s a tight balance between staying informed and information overload/analysis paralysis.

To succeed and grow, we must find a home within ourselves as people independent of outside forces. From our solid foundation, we can bring our whole selves to our jobs, ready to weather the forces of change, and know ourselves as larger than our circumstances. We are nothing if not our ability to adapt and prosper from seeming adversity.

When I think about these concepts, I can’t help but hear the voice of Tyler Durden: “You are not your job. You are not the contents of your wallet.” Of course, he goes on to say “You are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world,” which is the opposite of what I’m saying to you.

Granted, everyone can feel like that at times, but what I’m trying to eventually get to is a message of…hope? I’m not all the way there, but may we all achieve a strong enough sense of ourselves that we can know who we are outside of the constantly changing background of circumstances. Who might that be? Someone who knows themselves, their intentions, what they value, and how well they can adapt in any situation.

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