Old you, meet the now you

Imaging waking up and being someone else, but not exactly someone else. You are still you, but you are the you 10 years from now. The eyes looking back at you in the mirror are yours, but your face shows the years. What else is the same? Maybe you recognize some people around you, maybe you don’t. Maybe you recognize where you are, maybe you don’t. If you woke up with a 10 year gap in your memory, would you recognize yourself? Would you recognize your life?

I recently finished a book where the main character bumps her head, loses all memories from the past 10 years, and her current life — right down to her personality, goals, achievements, the types of friends she has, her relationships with friends and family, and the way others view her — is totally unrecognizable to her. As the pages turn, you join her as she sees her current situation with eyes from the past.

Recently, I spoke with a friend who in the span of about five years worked his way into a dream job and career path that many envy but few achieve, a wonderful relationship, and an unexpected but very welcomed child. However, this new family, which seemingly came out of the blue, was not compatible with his career. He would have to give up the career he worked so very hard to build for a life that, until recently, he never knew he wanted. How would the him of the past respond to the choices of today, to giving up what he always wanted for something he wouldn’t know he wanted?

This got me thinking about my own life. Not so much about all the changes the past decade has brought, but if my self from 10 years ago popped into my life today, what would the younger me think? Would I handle problems the same way? Would my priorities be different? Would things that are a big deal to me now still seem important to the past me?

All of my dreams from the past were abandoned as my present realities took over. Whether I did what I needed to do at the time, or just went along with what seemed the easiest path is something on which I would rather not dwell. I know that I have changed a lot, but I’m not sure all those changes were for the best, and changing is not the same as growing. I think the me of 10 years ago, certainly the me of 15 years ago, is perhaps a truer me, while the me of today is the result of 10 years of life, drama, bad decisions, loss, heartbreak, luck and joy leading to a million different decisions. I don’t think it is fair to say that I got lost, but perhaps it is fair to say that I’m not exactly where I thought I was going.

As an analogy, when sailing small, fast sailboats in difficult conditions, you set the sails for the general direction you want to go and steer to keep the boat upright and moving fast. Just the slightest mistake and you will have time to reflect on it as you bob along in the water next to your upturned boat. As you can imagine, this may be a good way to go fast, but not the best way to reach your intended destination. I remember many races and practice sessions where I was so focused on the boat or the wind that afterward I had no idea where I was, or perhaps more critically, how to get back to the car.

Life, or at least my life, has been a lot like sailing a small boat. While I have done my best to keep it upright, there have been some pretty big course changes made in response to life’s shifting winds that I never saw coming. Over the past couple months, I have had the opportunity to see where I started, where I wanted to be, and all the course changes that have led to where I am today.

In sailing, you have to tack to get back to where you needed to be. In life, you have to decide whether to make big direction changes to get back to some arbitrary place, or continue to go with the wind and see where you end up. Rather than asking what a popular Biblical prophet would do, I find myself asking what a younger me would do. One of my sailing heroes once remarked that no matter what happens, you have to sail from where you are. I am starting to see that where I am and how I got here are not that important. It’s what I do next that counts. I wonder where my 10-year-younger self would tell me to go? I think he knows something that got lost along the way.

Rumi said, “Don’t worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?” Perhaps that is advice that only my present-day self can understand.

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