Life seems to have a basic pattern of development, a template if you will.
From birth to about age 5, kids spend most of their time learning the basic mechanics of functioning in the world. Then from age 5 to about age 14 they are primarily learning the basics about the world and how it works. For the rest of the teenage years kids begin learning about other people, how to establish connections, and begin to discover their own identities. And then you hit your 20s and everything changes–now you’re becoming involved in serious romantic relationships, attaining higher education, beginning a career, becoming financially and physically independent of your parents, all of which are challenging transitions–the template is gone. As someone who has far more of my 20s behind me than in front of me, I can say that there will be a lot of pain involved in these transitions, but even more joy. In addition to those difficult transitions into adulthood, the other endeavour young adults are tasked with embarking on is the nebulous quest of “finding yourself.”
What tends to happen is that when you’re in your 20s, about halfway through, you start to get serious about this thing called, “finding yourself,” and you begin to think about it more and more. You’ll try new hobbies, date different kinds of people, try different scenes, maybe you’ll read self-help books, or finally start seeing a therapist to work out your childhood issues. The end result is you become obsessed with this idea of finding yourself. Then one day you wake up and you think, “damn son, this whole ‘finding yourself’ thing isn’t flipping easy!” Perhaps you’ll even feel guilty for having this thought because hey, other people have been able to find themselves, becoming “real” adults, and you may start wondering to yourself, “why am I not able to do this and why does life still feel so uncomfortable and like I don’t fit anywhere?” Well, I’ll take a gander at answering that question.
Because nobody every explains what “finding yourself” really is.
Seriously. Think about it. If you’re in your 20s, think to yourself, has anybody ever actually explained to you what finding yourself means? For those of you who are beyond your 20s, past the big 3-Oh, was finding yourself something that was ever explained to you? Does anybody even ever give you a good idea on how to do it? In my experience, not really. Instead, older generations kind of just tell you, “now that you’re an adult you have to get out there and find yourself,” ending their statement looking into your soul with intense and wanting eyes, or walking away with a nonchalance that makes you think that you should already know what finding yourself entails and that you just gotta get out there (wherever “there” actually is) and do it. And then you can’t. Because you don’t even know what finding yourself is or how to get there. Well here’s what I think:
Finding yourself isn’t a destination.
Finding yourself isn’t a place you end up after you perform some set of societally invented rite of passage tasks. Finding yourself isn’t something that requires a guide or manual. Finding yourself doesn’t mean pulling up your bootstraps, working hard, and “building” something. And finding yourself isn’t about choosing a style of dress, a favourite brand of cigarette, or a hairstyle that works for you. In my opinion finding yourself is about one simple yet very difficult thing that we all must learn to be truly happy.
Finding yourself is about developing the ability to just be.
What does it mean to “just be” in my mind? Imagine the entirety of your life’s experiences are depicted in a quilt. Well, throughout your first twenty or thirty years of life you’ll necessarily be exposed to dozens, thousands, even millions of different experiences. These may be schools, friendships, betrayals, first kisses, first breakups, grudges, vacations, experimenting with substances, education, first jobs, failures and successes. Etcetera. Basically, you will experience a lot, far more than you and most other non-savants (assuming that you, the reader, are not a savant) will ever be able to consciously remember. The thing is that even though you may not consciously remember everything that you experience, the brain remembers and so does the soul. Each experience, regardless of significance, stitches itself into the quilt of your life. Finding yourself is when you stop agonizing over what you want the quilt to look like, stop planning it, learning how to just continue stitching, and becoming brave enough to sit in the comfort of your own artistic decisions so as to accept whatever it is you come out with.
Yes, you’re going to mess up some stitches and sometimes you’ll pick a square of cloth that has a pattern that you later are not satisfied with. But sometimes you’ll choose a patch of cloth that seems just right, something that will work with everything around it. Sometimes your stitches will fray and come apart, yet sometimes they will hold tightly and everything will be solid. In some instances you’ll have the luxury of choosing your own squares and at other times you’ll have to settle for what you have laying around or what was given to you. Your experiences and the choices you make are akin to the kinds of cloth you sew your quilt with, and the quality of your stitches are analogous to the quality of your decisions.
The journey of life is your quilt, and you are the weaver.
And at some point you’re going to step back, take a look at your quilt, and admire the beauty and the ugliness, the order and the chaos, and above all, the utterly unsystematic patchwork masterpiece that you’ve created in your lifetime, the amalgamation of your experiences and your choices. You’ll have to learn to accept everything you see–all of it–because you created it. Because you lived it. And it’s not going to change.
You have to set your ego aside and ignore your insecurities. You have to ward off the regrets of choosing one piece of cloth over another, wishing you could see what the quilt would look like if your choices were different. You have to be brave enough to be comfortable with what you see. Because your quilt, everything you experience and patch together in your first few decades on this planet, is your life.
Finding yourself is learning how to accept your quilt, though it likely will look nothing like you planned and there will be parts you don’t like. Finding yourself is to accept the colours and patterns you don’t like while revelling in the aspects that you love, without placing any patch of cloth as any more significant than any other piece. Finding yourself is learning to love that quilt unconditionally. And at that moment when you can take a step back and admire that quilt for what it is, you will know what it is to just be. This is what finding yourself, in my opinion is all about–learning how to admire the quilt of your life.
Finding yourself is learning how to just be.