This is me
“This is me,” I declare and point to myself in a photo from when I was 8 years old. A big grin on my face. A couple of teeth missing. Unabashed. I flip through the pages of the photo-book. Oh, and here I am again, I think as I observe my 14 year old self. Long hair obscuring my face, anxiously looking to get away from the camera, dressed in a hand-me-down sweater that is way too big for me. A strange feeling comes over me as I look at these photos: both of these girls feel like intimate strangers — sort of me, but not really ‘me’. In fact, these earlier versions of me are quite different from the ‘me’ of today. Me v. 220.127.116.11 is better, stronger, and faster than previous versions. She comes with an improved hairdo, a new set of skills, and a sleeker design. Also, the bug that caused immense stuttering when faced with large audiences has finally been fixed (we hope).
It’s both strange and impressive to observe how we evolve as individuals, and looking at these old photos made me think about how I’ve changed throughout my relatively short life: who I was, who I am, and who I hope to become one day. Especially the last question is one that preoccupies my mind as I enter my early twenties. Like an ambitious and determined software developer, I am constantly seeking to upgrade my existing hardware — or to improve my mind, if you will — in order to achieve the ultimate goal: that happy and meaningful life that everybody longs for. Thus, I eagerly search up articles on “how to procrastinate less”, “how to achieve life goals”, “how to do more in a day” and my eyes are instinctively drawn to titles that promise to provide me with easy and simple methods on how to become more efficient in reaching these objectives. The sheer number of self-improvement articles that can be found across the internet, and the massive popularity of the genre itself, tells me that I am far from alone in my quest to create a better version of myself. Now more than ever, people seem to crave self-realization, and it is both a privilege and a curse to be able to pursue such lofty aspirations.
Because, despite my desire to improve and work towards my goals, I usually end up not following through with the advice that these self-improvement articles so generously provide me with. Sometimes I forget the suggestions shortly after I finish the article. Other times I follow every step carefully, reminding myself with a stern voice that this time I will follow through, only to find that I’ve strayed from the guidelines only a month later. I then beat myself up about it: Why can’t you pull yourself together? Don’t you want to be happy? You’re wasting your life! You’re never going to amount to anything if you keep this up. My inner developer is furious. Nothing is going according to plan. The humble programmers quake in fear and timidly explain to their superior that it’s not that easy to change the hardwired parts of the human brain. The developer gives an exasperated sigh. Typical. She then sulkily requests more chocolate to help her through these dark times.
Now, I doubt that we’ll ever stop trying to improve ourselves (and that is honestly a good thing), but while we are mentally torturing ourselves because we are unable to reach that perfect life goal, I feel that it’s important to remember, not only what we owe to the previous versions of ourselves, but also what we can learn from them. For example, I know that without the memory of my awkward teenage phase I wouldn’t be able to appreciate where I am today. Only five years ago, I used to be incredibly shy, and just the thought of having to ask for help in a store could make me leave it without having bought the thing I initially came to get. Nowadays? It’s not that big of a deal. Of course, my heart still pounds, but it’s not something I can’t handle, and the thought of the progress that I have made since those incidents occurred makes me feel less anxious about the fact that I am not as efficient in pursuing my dreams as I would like to be. Given time, even small steps can accumulate and cover a lot of ground.
Finally, it also seems to me that, in this hectic search for the perfectly realized self, we could all benefit from drawing upon those first few strings of code that were imprinted upon our minds during early childhood but which then, for many of us, seem to have been subsequently overwritten. It’s the code that tells us to not worry too much about the future, but instead to focus on what is fun and enjoyable. No, I’m not talking about watching TV-shows all day long (although that is fun too), but that instead of focusing on what you have to achieve in the future, focus on what you enjoy about the thing you’re passionate about now. What is it about your passion that brings forth that inner childish glee — the spark that awoke your passion in the first place? Focus on that.
With thanks to Lauren Wylie