Last week I talked about the simple notion that you need to know yourself before you will know your path.
I find most of us in this culture define ourselves by what we do for a living, so after leaving what I did for a living I find myself wondering — well then, who am I? Or, who was I? I remembered a small box I taped shut real tight after university and put in storage.
Last night I crawled deep into the crawlspace and pulled it out.
Inside, under the cat, there are some clues about my past. I flipped through them like an alien keen on observing myself: JK report cards that describe me singing my heart out in the singing circle, awkward class photos from grade school with messy hair and lasers in the backdrop, and a journal from 1996 in which my personality resembles a real life Lisa Simpson. (Complete with plans to set up a recycling program at the corner bakery and save the dolphins.)
This journal from 1996 disappeared in a robbery when my family and I moved to the city in 2001, and all my journals from elementary and high school went with it. Except this one came back.
Someone found it a year later and mailed it to my old address in suburbia. How they found my address I’ll never know. I’ve kept this journal packed away for the past 10 years, afraid of what silly, angsty writing I’d find inside. I was afraid of who I was.
The other night I cracked the journal open for the first time since I wrote it, and I’ve been reading it out loud to Danny in the evenings. Turns out I wasn’t the big loser I thought I was. I was oddly funny, and head-shakingly intuitive and advanced for a child. There are humorous accounts of daily life on the playground, and deep musings about true friendship and family. I describe the bullying in grade 8 as “emotional abuse”, and how on bad days I feel depressed and “vacant”. How would a 13 year old know the word vacant?
13 year old me was an outsider but had a 4-person crew of picked-on misfits. I played bass guitar, got straight A’s, obsessed over Jim Carrey, loved the Smashing Pumpkins, watched science shows, had a knack for art, loved animals and nature, and wrote every day.
I struggled with my self-confidence, teetering in 1996 between wanting to fit in but wanting to be myself, and like most kids I got picked on.
(EXHIBIT A: A few gems in my home-made yearbook that year. Note his detailed depiction of my Italian heritage upper lip hair that puberty had bestowed on me and the electric shaver pictured beside it.)
Anyway, I’m happy to learn the 13 year old me is actually a critical little thinker who had no problem calling people out on their crap, at least in her journal. I find her fascinating at this period — she writes angrily into her diary when she and her friends get picked on, has meaningful relationships with her pals, babysits her 6 year old sister, runs track, does her own laundry, makes dinner sometimes, and in just a few more pages she’ll graduate elementary school.
She’s cooler than she thought she was.
I poke around the dusty box a little more. From high school there’s only some bad poetry, then some good poetry, a day planner with hearts around my first boyfriend’s name, some photos of me as a hippy, a few letters from old classmates folded into cool origami, notes from my best friend, soccer team photos, and the rest is gone.
That time was all about following my own path with my best pal and not caring what anyone else thought. It was all love, flowers, soccer, music, horse riding, the Monkees, the Beatles, art, drama, sticking it to the suburban man, turning heads on the bus ride to the mall.
And happily not giving a flipping fuck.
Fast forward to a week before university submissions were due. On a visit to the city I drove by a film set in front of Union Station and a lightbulb went off. — Yes! — Off I went to learn how to make radio and TV.
The university years were jam packed with change.
From then, I have a few tokens in the box. There’s this cool scrapbook with fun notes and drawings I made:
And then there’s a stack of lined notebooks that describe the most transitional years of my adult life including epic breakups, leaving my friends, moving to a new city, getting robbed of everything, September 11th, adjusting to university, battling anxiety, getting over an eating disorder, struggling through work and school, trying to make new friends, keeping straight A’s, watching my family fall apart, internalizing my parent’s divorce, struggling with living at home, and everything else that went on before I graduated and left for Europe without much of a plan to start my adult life.
It’s brilliant. And I forgot how little credit I gave myself.
I’m so much different at 29 and growing fast every year. I’m wiser, stronger, happier. There’s balance. Yet there’s something great about looking back, even to the hard times, to see who I was and what I was thinking, and show myself some love.
Maybe other people would toss this stuff out.
But I like that I can see where my path was before my career, where my attitudes came from, why friendships failed or worked, and why I had a hard time hearing my inner voice.
Knowing how I got in my own way will help me get out of it.
As for the rest of the box:
It’s super fun looking way back.
You know, to those formative years, where, sure, you thought the California Raisins really did sing Heard It Through The Grapevine, whatever, but your inborn talents and interests were pure, weren’t they?
What did you do when you ate crackers and drank juice and ran around doing whatever on earth you felt like?
When’s the last time you felt that authentic?
Do you believe the feeling disappears with responsibilities and a job? With kids and family?
I’ve seen all kinds of different attitudes. Lately, with this blog, I’ve had a tremendous opportunity to meet many happy examples of people whose happiness comes from inside and being aligned to what they do. Being led by their hearts and values makes even the big obstacles just part of being amazing.
They know who they are.
So who are you?
It’s never too late to really ask.