Thursday, January 6, 2011

Self Preservation

A person I love is going through an identity crisis. My texted response was as thoughtful as anyone can get in two 180-character blocks, but I still don't think that's near enough to either encourage her or express thoughts on my own identity crises.

Evidence of such a crisis usually presents itself in ways that are several degrees of cause-effect away from any actual deviation from True Self. Life happens, you make changes. Assuming you know yourself at time zero (who you are, what you enjoy, how to get where you want to be in life, and making progress toward that goal), everything that happens along the course of said progress requires a re-evaluation, and subsequent re-definition. Any list of major life events that apply to most adults old enough to know what I'm talking about will include things like leaving the parental home, educating oneself (or failure to do so), learning how to gain and lose friends, learning how to gain and lose partners, choosing a career, buying a home, getting married, and having a family. That awesome twenty year old you used to be, who had the whole world in his/her hands and could go anywhere and be anything, isn't around anymore. Now you've got responsibilities to provide for and expectations to meet, maybe to more than just yourself, and if any of the decisions that led to those responsibilities and expectations were anything but 100% satisfying, you've made a course correction away from the Goal, and you usually don't even realize it until you see how far away you've moved.

A ship navigating even one degree off course will not only completely miss its intended destination, but find itself in completely unfamiliar territory, if it travels that way long enough or fast enough. And by the time the captain realizes the mistake, the further he's travelled along the wrong course, the larger the correction necessary. Life is the same way, except you can't turn around and go back to where you made the wrong turn.

There's no way to get back to time zero, no way to put a hand on the wheel before you made that first bad choice, or the choice that was good for the time but ultimately didn't pan out the way you thought (or hoped) it would. (Besides, do you really think you'd still like the same things and people now that you did when you were twenty?) Now, you have to deal with the "who" and "what" that you currently are, whether you like that person or not. True, journals, photographs, yearbooks, and old friends are invaluable resources in researching that lost Self, but lamentation is futile, and usually discouraging enough to shame away all the newly realized thoughts of self-realized disappointment. Get back to your life, you'll say to yourself, you're doing fine with what you have, you can't afford to make changes now. And so you do. Until the next time you're slapped in the face with a reminder that life is not the way you want it to be. It's hard to remember that, even if you think your current self isn't worth the trouble it would take to change, the destination self IS.

So, can you afford not to make changes?

It's a question I've faced multiple times since my mid-twenties. I am still asking myself, in varying aspects, if something is the way I want it, and if the answer is "no," the next question is what am I going to do about it. This happens more often than not, and I usually don't have an answer to the second question right away. I have routinely asked this about my friendships, marriage, finances, job, mental and emotional health, and how I see my body. I tell the people around me who are old enough to question these things and understand them that I don't have to go to work every morning, I don't have to come home every night. Nothing is stopping me from getting in my car right now, withdrawing every dime I can get at an ATM, and driving until my car dies. Of course, that's not the plan (today). I know I have this choice, though, and infinitely more like it, and that alone is free-ing in itself. But despite all the things I don't like about myself and my life, I know that without all the things I'd sacrifice to make some of the drastic changes I've considered, I'd be even further behind than I am now.

I'm taking baby steps, and I know I'll really never stop, never reach an end point in this journey. Until my body gives up on me, that is. Maybe that's just the rationalization for my lack of progress thus far, but if it's what gets me started I really don't care. There will always be books to read and apologies to make, arguments to start because they were never finished, and people to whom I've never expressed the real love I have for them. The plan is that I'll get to a little of that stuff today, and if all goes well, I'll get another day to get a little further. And so on. And though there will be a hundred things that get in the way every one of those days, I know this is the only practical course I have, unless I want to get in the car and head to an ATM...

So to my dear loved one, I wish you all the best. You are not alone, nor shall you be at any part of the journey you want me around for. SCWA

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