Most of us define ourselves by what we consume. And we do so without thinking twice about it. We base our identities on which sports teams we follow, the music we listen to, the shows we watch, the cars we drive, the diets we follow, the brands we buy. While this signals a landslide victory for consumerism, it presents a major challenge to our sense of individual identity and fulfillment. It becomes difficult to instill life with any sort of meaning when we’ve boxed ourselves into the dependent role of a consumer, creating nothing of our own.

What you consume doesn’t make you unique. The fact that you’re a fan of the Golden State Warriors, listen to Ed Sheeran, watch Veep, and only buy Apple products, are not unique identifiers.

What you create and what you’re putting out into the world is what defines you. This is not to say that you must become the most accomplished person on the planet or uncover some grand meaning to life, but living an authentic life where you feel tapped into yourself is worth striving for.

Most passive forms of consumption, driven by an excessive desire for comfort and convenience, serve only as distractions from ourselves, those around us, and our immediate surroundings. It’s an ineffective use of our limited time and all but guarantees we’ll forgo the raw experiences that define life. Attempting to live the easiest life available is an amateur move.

It’s important to redefine how we view entertainment and recreation. It doesn’t always have to mean watching sports, browsing social media, or shopping. It can be participating, learning, making something with our own hands, or moving ourselves under our own power. Right now we exist in a state of constant consumption interrupted only by brief periods in which we’re forced to fend for ourselves and create something out of desperation. The Pareto principle needs flipped on its head in favor of creating. As Derek Sivers suggests, the best practice is to make art our main relaxing activity.

Creating doesn’t mean you have to be a professional athlete, musician or filmmaker. It means trying those things because it’s more fulfilling to hone your own abilities and learn the craft. When you attempt to create something yourself, even if it’s a disaster, it will at the very least cultivate a greater sense of appreciation for the process.

If you admire a certain athlete, musician, scientist, writer, public figure, you name it, the ultimate form of praise is using them as a point of inspiration to create or discover something of your own. Not mindlessly consuming everything they put into the world and staking your claim as a superfan.

If the generic life of a consumer doesn’t seem problematic, its lack of sustainability should. Consuming more than we create establishes a rift; one which reflects our underlying exploitive attitude towards the world and those around us. We’re taking out more than we’re giving back.

What the world needs is more people giving something back, creating something of their own.

In this context, “creating” is synonymous with contributing. For the vast majority of human history, we defined ourselves by what we created and contributed to the greater whole. From an evolutionary perspective, our ancestors who created value in their communities were better off, or at the very least had a better chance at surviving, than their counterparts. In modern life, it’s less a question of survival as it is one of personal fulfillment and giving back to humanity.

To create is to actively engage and contribute to the world.

Is there anything more selfish than relying on other people to create art, value, and meaning, so you don’t have to risk putting yourself out there? The people creating are the ones taking the risk. Without an outlet in which to create, the number of moments in life when you feel truly alive are few and far between. Creating is engrained in us.

Consumers and critics embody the opposite: total consumption, zero creation. As Nassim Taleb suggests, they have no skin in the game and as a result are fragile to the extreme.[1] They lack any sort of self-sufficiency and are totally dependent on other people to create value and put themselves out there. Those who create are far more resilient and self-sufficient.

Developing self-sufficiency and creating more opens the door to a wealth of experiences that you can leverage throughout life, allowing the power of compound interest to run its course. It’s a far more rewarding use of your time and energy. The most valuable experiences are found in moments when you feel present, engaged, and are creating something of value.

If there’s a secret to thriving in modern life, it’s creating more and consuming less. More passive entertainment and more things are not the answer. These are temporary highs, extinguished as quickly as they’re brought about. Put something of your own out into the world and lose yourself in that process. Not for the recognition that might follow, but for the sake of the process itself.

Define yourself by what you create, not what you consume.

[1] Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder.

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  • Alex J. Hughes

    Writer. Product Manager. Strategies for creativity and focus.

    Hi there – I'm Alex Hughes, I'm a writer and software product manager based in Nashville, TN. I am also a current advisor at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center and help guide entrepreneurs in the ideation, creation, and launch of their early-stage startups. Join my newsletter for strategies, articles and book recommendations on living more deliberately.