Growth is not something we’re really instilled with when we’re growing up, ironically enough.
Flashbacks in movies to the protagonist’s youth tend to show a mini-version of the adult, full of nods to their grown-up selves. Here you can see the people they will grow into already taking shape. Often, the younger versions of characters in a flashback will be almost identical to the older in personality. This is especially true in group flashbacks.
Growth, we’re told over and over, is a straight line up. The kind of growth we’re not exposed to is growth that shoots off in directions you never anticipated. We aren’t told to expect and never to embrace changes in yourself that alter you so fundamentally you aren’t even recognizable any longer to your younger self.
When growth surprises us, we’re taken off guard. We’re afraid.
There is so little left of the boy I was not that long ago. Who I’ve become is so much more than older. The changes in my understanding of the world, in how I hold my own image in my mind, in my religion and values are so different from the trajectory as a child, which were so different than myself as a teenager, so different from my younger adult self, so different from myself today.
There is going to be a man wearing some of my clothes, married to my wife, father to my son in a few years time. He’s going to hold a driver’s license with his face and my name. This man will share my birthday and social security number, but I cannot be sure that this man is going to be me and this is simultaneously frightening and exciting.
We’re all like the phoenix, the mythical bird that bursts in a blazing fire at the end of each life, only to be reborn from the ashes. But we can do this so much more often.
I’m reminded of a common phrase: kill your heroes. Not literally, of course. This is meant to understand that your heroes are nothing more than normal people. Hold them on your level. If we apply this to ourselves, I think we can learn to let go of the preconceived notions we build about who we fundamentally are as people. We can learn to let the people we are today fade away, like a suit that no longer fits. We can allow ourselves to effortlessly slip into our new selves.
Who never know who you’re going to be.