Do you remember in Fight Club when Tyler Durden goes on a nice little, nihilistic monologue telling his men what they’re not?
It’s one of the more famous quotes from the film.
“You are not your job.
You’re not how much money you have in the bank.
You’re not the car you drive.
You’re not the contents of your wallet.
You’re not your f*&#ing khakis.”
Well believe it or not, I almost entirely agree with him.
Before we talk about why he’s right, let me tell you what I don’t agree with (it’ll be quick).
Ultimately, it’s not all of the things he tells you you’re not, but what he tells you you are.
Part of that is because what Fight Club ultimately represents in a very Gen X version of the philosophy of Nihilism.
I don’t believe in nihilism. It’s not a philosophy I have any sort of affinity for because I believe in way bigger and better things than “we just become the rot and decay of the world.”
That aside – let’s talk about why you’re not your khakis.
You Can’t Buy an Identity at the Mall
The big problem with this – whether your identity is wrapped in the clothing you wear, the car you drive, the friends you have, or the contents of your wallet – whatever it may be – is that it conflates cause and effect.
What Durden is talking about is sad man who don’t have anything else to live for, nothing else to stand for, or anything else to believe in and so they base their identities entirely on what they consume. And that’s as far as you can get from true masculinity.
Because you should not be able to go and buy your identity at the mall.
This goes hand-in-hand with some of the things we’ve been talking about in other posts and videos. It’s trying to find the balance between Tribe and Taste, the balance between the group and the individual, or these two things that appear to be polar opposites and finding the right balance between them.
Obviously if you’ve been reading my stuff for a while you know I spend a lot of time talking about Tribe. How it affects your appearance and identity – and ultimately how it affects your reality.
But what I don’t want you to believe is that Tribe is the end-all-be-all because individualism is a huge component of masculinity. And the problem is if you’re all tribe and no individualism – that’s when you do become your khakis.
You shouldn’t be able to go out and just consume, purchase, or pick up who it is that you are as a person.
What that says about you is that you are not an active agent. You are not a man who goes out and creates things. You’re a passive consumer.
Your entire identity is not based on what you are internally; it’s not based on your Internal Presence that you project outward into the rest of the world; it’s based entirely on what the rest of the world projects onto you.
There’s a very big problem with that for us as men.
If you can’t project what you are, into the world around you you’ll never have influence. You’ll never have Presence. You’ll never be able to lead. You’ll never even be able to effectively follow. All you become is an automaton for other men who are more powerful, more capable, more fulfilled, and happier than you are.
Why We Become Our Khakis
I can certainly sympathize with why people feel this way or why this stuff ends up happening.
Think about what makes you different from anyone else in the world – I don’t even mean the world in general. Let’s just say the Western world.
What is it that makes you different from the other people at work, or in another city, or even in another country? Is it something big like the god you believe in (or don’t?), your ideas of what’s right and wrong, something that’s more internal like this is what makes a good man and this is what I want the world to look like? Is it really that different from everybody else?
Odds are, probably not.
In reality the only real differences between us and all the other “tribes” around us are superficial things – things like what we do for a living, the kind of clothing we wear, the programs we watch on TV, or the music we listen to.
The differences between tribes like cross fitters and powerlifters are not fundamentally big. They’re just superficially different.
Same goes for menswear guys who are really into streetwear or suiting. There’s not that big of a difference between us – it’s more of a matter of degree than kind.
The problem is when we live in a large, globalized world with no real concrete differences between all the different variations of tribes it becomes incredibly easy to just buy your identity.
There’s no meaning or underlying value to what your tribe is. You can change it as quickly and as often as your taste or your mood changes. There’s no loyalty, no honor, no desire for anything better. It’s all based on what you want to consume – which in turn, is all based on what other people are creating.
The Right Balance
What I want you to do as men, what I try to do for myself, what I try to instill in my children, and ultimately what I want to accomplish with this site is to help you understand what your core values are. What are the things you stand for? It doesn’t matter if they’re totally different from anybody else or completely in lock-step with someone. What are your core values? What are the things that make up your Internal Presence – that make up who you are as a man? And then, how do you use your clothing to project that out into the world?
You can’t do that if your identity is based on external, superficial things. You can only do that if it’s centered on internal, meaningful principles.
The mistake most men make when hearing Durden’s monologue is in believing that the clothing we wear shouldn’t matter at all.
Durden most likely was advocating for this, but that again falls into the trap of nihilism and how ultimately nothing matters.
Those who don’t subscribe to that philosophy can still get behind his speech, we just understand it differently.
The clothes you wear, the car you drive, and the contents of your wallet absolutely do matter and they can impact your life. They just don’t matter the way we think they do.
Rather than those being the cause and your identity being the effect, your identity should be the cause and all of those other things should be the effect.
As soon as you get those switched up and the balance is correct, there’s more consistency and congruency. You feel more authentic and project more authenticity. You’re more integrated with the people in your life who actually matter and care a whole lot less about those who don’t.
If you start by doing something internally, you have your moral code, you know what it is and your identity is based around that code, and you project outward from there – that’s how you lead a happy and successful life.
You’ll always be well-dressed (even if other people hate what you’re wearing).
You’ll be congruent with your tribe.
You’ll be authentic with yourself.
Your clothing and appearance will always be an effective tool to help you accomplish bigger and much more important goals in your life.
I want to hear from you!
Have you been through stages in your life where you were your khakis?
Where your identity was based on what you purchased, rather than your identity causing what you purchased and wore?
Leave a comment below!