When I was visiting my parents recently, I came across some old photos and papers from elementary school. The girl with the troll-doll earrings? Yep, that was me. And if you looked at me today, with my pink hair streak and my butterfly skirt, you’d know it. How did I do that? I don’t think of myself as particularly cutting-edge, or into wacky stuff. But there you have it. Then, I went on to read the “biography” of me that my first-grade class did, when we all wrote (and illustrated!) about everyone in our class: “Betsy is tall. She likes to travel and help people. Her favorite foods are pizza and salad.” Nailed it!
I also found my national physicial fitness award— ok, now i’m just bragging.
There aren’t a lot of organic opportunities to look at ourselves from a distance, but these kinds of moments— when you see the you-ness of the younger you— are so revealing (and often awe-inspiring). It’s a reminder that, even though we are constantly changing and the world is constantly changing around us, there is a central self-ness, and it’s not the way we typically define ourselves. I’m a nurse— I wasn’t a nurse then. I’m a yogi— but only for the past 10 or 15 years. I’m a spouse— it’s been 5 years. But that je ne sais quoi from the school photo, the mementos? It’s always been there. It’s not what I do, or how I relate to others or the outside world— it’s me.
So? I find this truth comforting, in a kind of existential way. Despite the things that happen, despite the people who don’t like me, despite missing a workout or accidentally eating a cheeseburger, I’m still me. It’s not, and it never was, an individual moment that defines me. It’s a gestalt. It’s a trajectory. It’s. . . I don’t know, exactly, but it’s there. It might be a soul-searching activity to find the elements that are you, but it’s exactly those elements that can provide that last bit of motivation to do something that feels right, even when it’s hard. I’ve heard ultra-endurance athletes see: (Matt Frazier, Rich Roll) talk about the mental game as the real challenge. Is it a stretch to think that seeing the you-ness is a way of having your mental house in order, so to speak?