“Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about unbecoming everything that isn’t you so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.” I don’t know who first said that, and maybe it is old wives’ wisdom that I have just never seen anywhere before. But to me it rings true. Well, some of it does. One of the famous philosophers, I would say it was Locke but I might as well be mistaken, thought that a human is born a tabula rasa – an empty canvas. This new human learns as it lives and collects memories and habits along the road to shape who it is. And it sounds like it makes sense.
But then you start thinking about all the expectations, all the norms and little habits that you picked up watching other people’s behaviour, and you start to wonder if all of that really is for you. Whether you chose university because your parents went there and silently, or not so silently, were nudging you towards that direction. Whether you would date girls just for the fun of it if you didn’t think you were going to be labelled as something you don’t think you are. Whether you would be drinking in this bar if it wasn’t for your friends that like this joint.
There are so many false fronts we put up to protect our face or our reputation. There are moulds that have surreptitiously formed us into a shape we think will be the most pleasant for our surroundings. We adjust into this cast were given to make life a little bit easier. We live and learn, as it goes. We pick up stones on our way to the grave and carry them on our shoulders. But it isn’t only the heavy, negative things that affect us – we pick up suits that don’t quite sit with us straight even when we want them to. We wear a suit of confidence to keep our crumbling insides together. Or a suit of modesty, when we think our true colours would shock our surroundings. We pick up stones and we pick up flowers, and we put on more layers as we grow up.
But who are you, actually?
Are you this newly assembled human being that has picked up this and that on their way to the old age? Or are you a chip, a power-cell, that you were when you were born, stripped to the bare minimum?
My friend has a theory, She hates the saying ‘I like you. The old you. The new you sucks.’ She thinks a person never changes, not truly; that there is a part of them that remains the same no matter what. I didn’t know what to believe, and I guess I still don’t. I used to be a very quiet kid. Not shy, not really, but a little bit introverted and happy in my own company. Very non-confrontational, very nice to everybody. As I grew up, I started yearning for more and more company. I was the happiest when I was surrounded by a big group. One summer I got confident, and it felt like a rush. I was suddenly making friends left and right, going from one task to another, I was on the highway to heaven. Top of the world seemed far below.
I think a lot about how they say you can find your true self when you go travelling, and I suppose they are right. But maybe they were wrong, too. Didn’t they mean that once you go you would be completely free to do whatever you want, be whoever you want? It is all about accumulating experience that you wear like your old suits as you pick up new manners, new little things to call yourself.
But behind all that freedom is the unavoidable crash when you go too far and realise that in your search of yourself you have stepped too far outside of your actual self. The reality snaps you back. It is painful to be back in your old, battered body and realise how nothing has fundamentally changed. Under all your confidence you’re still a little bit lonely, a little bit shy. The things that you didn’t like about yourself were the things you were running away from, but they caught up to you easily because they never left you. The first time I learned this I cried bitterly. How could it be that after all of the work I’d put into building myself to be a perfect human companion for myself, I still could look inside and see the stumbling, clumsy teenage girl that had nothing but dreams to escape to? How was it that after all of the friends I had found, I still preferred being alone? How was it that my own self could betray me so badly.
Life is not about perfections, though. Yes, there are things we want to change about ourselves. Maybe it is a toxic view of the world, maybe it is the eternal sadness we feel from time to time. It is okay to better ourselves. But at the same time we need to know what we really are like. We need to know the person under all of the suits and the rocks they’ve picked to learn to live with that person, learn to accept it. It is hard to admit that even when you grow as a person, you never fundamentally change. But maybe the journey isn’t about becoming who you are but un-becoming everything you’re not.
To think that as I travel on, I will bit by bit shed the clothes that don’t fit me to be who I was meant to be… To me, that sounds like a comforting idea.