During my sophomore year in high school, I was fairly depressed and angsty. I was going through a devastating breakup in my young life, having lost my best friend and the person I'd been sure I was going to spend the rest of my life with it, all at once. My mom had gone back to school herself and my dad was getting crushed under his workload, so I felt like they were both too busy for me - and even when they weren't, I shut them out in the stubborn way that only 15-year-olds can. I hadn't really blossomed yet socially, and the word "shy" was still the dominant adjective people used to describe me. I was struggling with everything from my self esteem to my body image, from feelings of hopelessness to a serious exhaustion with life.
But I was good at hiding it.
At the same time, I recognized that I had to do something drastic to get myself out of the hole I felt like I was in. I credit my parents fully with having loaded up my emotional toolbox in childhood with tools to cope with challenging situations. I thought about what I'd read in my one of my favorite books at the time, "Succulent Wild Woman" by SARK: a story the author relayed about a male friend of hers who'd whined to his mother about not being able to meet the right woman. The mother told him to stop worrying about meeting the right woman (which was out of his control) and focus instead on making himself into the right man (which was within his control) so when he finally found her, he'd be ready for her.
That was my thinking when, at 15, I launched my secret project, which I dubbed DMTM - "Discovering Myself Through Myself." Using techniques Mike had taught me during our relationship plus a lot of research on my own, I built myself a website on my personal computer. I never uploaded it to the internet, but instead kept it buried on my PC for personal access only. I designed a main menu that led to a dozen pages and sub-menus. I moved my personal journal onto the site. I kept other writing I was proud of on it, too. I put up scans of my sketchbook pages. I kept record of any and all dreams I had and remembered. I showcased my budding web design projects - all with no audience in mind but myself.
The focus of my project was to redirect all my angsty energy into something productive - an investment in my own future. I refocused my journal entries on positive thoughts of change, of learning, of growth, rather than on negative ruminations about how stagnant and trapped and sad I felt at that point in my life. I meditated. I went running a lot. I tried to calm my soul, and recorded the entire process on DMTM as it was happening. On the first day of it, I wrote:
So many people spend their lives so desperately seeking their own purpose on this Earth, and they are seeking for it so intensely that they lose sight of what’s right in front of them. Life. Reality. Humanity. Being. Existence. This. Now. My purpose is to find myself and be true to that. I am forever changing myself, changing who I am, to make others happy. The few times I don’t do this are when I write in my journal with the confidence that no one is going to read what I’m writing and while I am running and my mind is completely centered on that.
In a world full of people screaming to be individuals, I’m just like everyone else. I want to leave my own unique imprint on the world. I want to be special, too. I want to inspire. I want to be an individual. But I’ve come to realize I can’t do that merely by dressing funky or writing band names on my backpack or posting my poetry in my AIM profile. I have to start small. Before I can even think of advertising who I am, I need to find out who that is. I don’t do that by trying a million different self-images out on my peers and seeing which one everyone else likes best. I have to start with myself.
Psychosocial scientist Erik Erickson acknowledged in his work that, indeed, identity formation is the most crucial task of adolescence. (Check!) The next steps of young adulthood and beyond include the searches for intimacy (vs. isolation) and "generativity" (vs. stagnation) - so I suppose those are naturally my next life projects. The point of writing about all this is that, first of all, I'm infinitely grateful to my 15-year-old self, and second of all, the amazing thing about personal development is that you can do it for free, anytime, anywhere, and it always, always yields results.
A few years ago, when I first began dreaming of moving to Seattle, I imagined myself securing from afar a full time job in publishing or editing. I certainly never imagined myself working in retail once I got here. And yet, "things not going as imagined" can be such an unforeseen asset. On the bright side, I work for three fantastic companies, doing diverse projects and work at each, generally loving it all - all the while getting to reflect a lot more on what aspects I appreciate most in each, plan for my future accordingly, learn about different business models, and develop my own life skills along the way. I love that REI pushes me constantly to be a better worker, a stronger communicator, a leader with positive drive and energy. I love that everything about my job with Kaplan is pretty far out of my comfort zone, and made me miserably scared at first, but sticking with it despite my anxieties has led me to grow into a confident, effective tutor. And I love that all my work at the magazine so far has helped illuminate for me this path I'm interested in pursuing further academically...the overlaps between print journalism and internet media. Hello world.
It almost feels like cheating to be reading books on personal success, because they're full of wisdom and lessons that people have taken entire lifetimes to earn - and I can access them all now, at this age. That's powerful. I've just been reading a ton of books lately. I've stopped checking my email or Facebook when I wake up, or on my breaks at work. I read books instead. It's completely transformed my energy levels throughout the day.
It's part of the reason Seyeon and I bonded so intensely when we met at Stanford the following year; I recognized instantly that disparate as our personalities were, we were made of the same clay. I emerged from conversations with her energized about life, about thinking, about learning, about planning for the future. We're both feeding off that energy again in each other now, and our reading/hiking seminar on Mt. Teneriffe last week was only the beginning. We're both going to school this fall; after Oberlin, I was burnt out on school and vowed not to do any more of it until my adult self figured out for sure what I wanted to study and could pay for it with my own money. That time has come.
Happily, Alan's on board, too. I know it's rare for me to do this much personal rambling on my public blog, and probably most of you won't make it this far anyway (web stats show that the average person reads only 18% of text on any given webpage), but I'd like to state for the record that I feel really lucky to be in a relationship with someone who loves and supports me as much as Alan does, and furthermore, is making purposeful tracks of his own in creating the future he wants. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said, "You are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with." True story. I'm a lucky lady.
Let me know if you would like to share book recommendations. I'm in a reading frenzy, and would love to share in it with you. So, no awesome photos of beautiful Washington this week. Just a lot of enjoying being home, reading and writing and relaxing and catching up on both sleep and cuddle time with Chloe.
Thoughts always welcome, in the form of blog comments, emails, Facebook messages, handwritten letters, phone calls, in person, or whatever other crazy medium you can come up with.