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The Sherlock Holmes Guide to Recovering Your Stolen Identity

Article by Zen Habits contributor Jonathan Mead.

As technology rapidly increases and the information age expands, our identities are at an increasing risk for being stolen. But it’s not a hacker trying to steal your social security number that should be causing you to lose sleep. It’s the ownership of your mind that’s at stake.

Most of us work at boring jobs, doing the same thing day in and day out. We’re trying to liberate ourselves from these dead-end pursuits (that’s why you’re here right?) but it’s not always easy.

The answer society has given us is to buy more things:

The answer we’re given is not a change of attitude or perspective, but a product. What they’re really saying is: “If you have this thing you’ll finally live up to the image of who you think you should be, or rather, who we think you should be.”

This might sound a bit extreme. Most of us can’t imagine that we’re living a lie and that stuff is ruling our lives. That’s only because we’ve been so brilliantly duped.

I, personally, have defined myself by my stuff. Who hasn’t? I’ve thought that as soon as I get this car, this job, these clothes and this image, I’ll finally be somebody. But as soon as I get that stuff, as soon as I feel that my image is complete, I’m on to the next thing. I need an upgrade. I’m in search of the next thing to make me feel better.

The battle for your authenticity is not an easy one, but there are some things you can do to get started on the road to recovering your stolen identity.

So, you want to recover your stolen mind? I’ve enlisted the help of Master Detective Sherlock Holmes to help guide us on our search.

1. Accept that your identity is in jeopardy.

“You do occasionally find a carrion crow among the eagles.” – Sherlock Holmes

The first step on the path to recovering your true self is accepting that your identity is in jeopardy. You may be living a lie. That doesn’t mean that your whole life has been a fraud (see: how to not sell out). This isn’t black and white. There will probably be a lot of grey area in between. The first step is to realize that the socially acceptable path to success may not be your path. Compromise is okay, but not at the expense of your soul. A partially free mind is just not acceptable.

2. Authenticity isn’t easy.

“It was easier to know it than to explain why I know it. If you were asked to prove that two and two made four, you might find some difficulty, and yet you are quite sure of the fact.” – Sherlock Holmes

The battle for your authenticity can be an ugly one. Your ego might get hurt in the process. It probably won’t feel very good if you own up to the fact that you’ve been lying to yourself for a while about who you really are or want to be. The fact is, authenticity isn’t easy. But it’s worth it.

3. Find the thief.

“We are spies in an enemy’s country. – Sherlock Holmes

Do some digging around. Put on your detective cap and start looking for clues. Sometimes the culprit will have left obvious tracks and his work will be downright clumsy. This is usually obvious when there’s strong emotional resistance. Maybe you don’t want to be lawyer, but you’re pushing yourself through law school because you’ve always been told you are really good at making arguments. This is a sure sign your authenticity has been broken.

4. Be weary of the stealthy crook.

“These are much deeper waters than I had thought.” – Sherlock Holmes

There will be times where your compromised identity is not seen in plain sight. It will take some serious work to uncover the genesis of this offense. Perhaps you’re trying to read a lot of “hip” books to make yourself seem cool. You really don’t care for the words on these pages, you just want them on your bookshelf to show off when friends come over. Maybe you don’t really care for wine, but you drink it any way because all your friends do too. You don’t want to be left out, right? Be weary of the times when it seems like a small compromise isn’t much. A small lie to yourself is like a little tumor in your authenticity. Unless you remove it before it’s too late, it can easily grow out of control.

5. Follow the clues back to the source.

“When once your point of view is changed, the very thing which was so damning becomes a clue to the truth.” – Sherlock Holmes

Once you’ve discovered the scene of the crime, you have to trace the steps back to the source of the problem. You have to start thinking about a motive. What caused your authenticity to be compromised? Were you trying to live up to an image of perfection in your mind? Were you afraid of not fitting in because you were an outcast in high school? It’s time to face up to the facts.

6. Start over.

“For once you have fallen low. Let us see in the future how high you can rise.” – Sherlock Holmes

Now that you’ve uncovered the culprit and found the source of your problem, it’s time to press the reset button. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. Realize that it’s okay to not be as cool as you think you are. Choose freedom over living up to some kind of lifestyle. Choose acceptance over chasing some idea of what other people think you should be. If other people don’t accept that, maybe it’s time to say so long to them.

7. Protect yourself.

“One drawback of an active mind is that one can always conceive alternate explanations which would make our scent a false one.” – Sherlock Holmes

The final step to recovering your authenticity is to protect yourself from it happening again in the future. This might mean making a pact to be true to yourself, before anything else. It might mean that you cut down on media consumption. You stop watching TV and reading magazines (or at least do so selectively). You stop listening to people tell you what they think you should be.

There will obviously be times when we do things to fit in. We’ll probably act differently around our mother then we would around our drinking buddies. That’s okay.

In order to protect your identity from being stolen, stop chasing some idea of what you think you should be, but you’re not.

This article was written by Zen Habits contributor Jonathan Mead of the Illuminated Mind blog. For more ways to reclaim ownership of your mind subscribe to Illuminated MInd today.


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