Charles Starrett


Blog, links, and…

Culture consultant & social tech teacher/facilitator at SoulCo & Northeastern University. He/Him. Dad, Harvard and NEC alum, visual thinker, dabbler in ukulele, electronic music, 한국어, and TTRPGs.


Keeping current with myself

I used to value being able to “define myself.” In my 20s and early 30s I was on a path that let me answer the two questions of “Who am I” and “What is my work” with the same answer: “I’m an ethnomusicologist.”

When I finally accepted that this label was not an honest answer to either question, I was left with the painful realization that I didn’t know who I was or what my work was. In the years that followed, I became obsessed with trying to nail down my “personal brand.” I read books and blog posts, wrote out lists of values, drafted mission statements, and crafted “elevator pitches” that could encapsulate my essence in 30 seconds.

I spent all my time reading, thinking, writing, and talking, and in the end it got me nowhere.

What I should have been doing was listening.

Everything I wrote became outdated from the moment I committed it to memory. “Today’s news is tomorrow’s fish wrap,” as the saying goes, and that was just as true for my personal elevator pitches. Not only am I a different person today than I was yesterday, my awareness of myself is always changing, too.

I’ve learned now that the point isn’t to craft the perfect statement, but to practice and hone my ability to listen to myself and to listen to the world. To notice how the world reflects back to me what I say and do, and to sense how I am showing up in the world from that reflection. To trust that if I’m meeting a person who is open and curious, what comes out of my mouth will be some version of the truth about who I am. And if I’m meeting a person who is closed and judgmental, then it doesn’t matter what I say anyway.

As I’ve practiced listening, I’ve gained a much better understanding of who I am and what my work is than I had when I let go of the label of “ethnomusicologist.” And I expect my understanding to continue to change and grow for the rest of my life.

I still get nervous when meeting people for the first time, and I still worry about what they’ll think of me. But I no longer try to get rid of that feeling by writing a script for a character who is no longer me. I accept the feelings as part of what it means to be who I am, and I ride on that emotion into the exciting unknown possibility of this new conversation.

Because every conversation has the potential of a gift of understanding if I can stay open, present, and fresh. Not only could I learn more about the world through another perspective, I could also learn a bit more about who I am becoming, today.

When are the times you notice who you are becoming? How do you keep current with yourself?

16 August 2022

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