When I read this title, I kind of chuckle to myself. It’s a funny story, what I know about myself. The truth is I spent the first 25ish years of my life knowing very little about myself. I moved around a ton, and as a result I played it safe a lot. I never developed deep friendships so I wasn’t exposed to the hobbies of my peers enough to see if I enjoyed them. I had no hobbies to speak of and spent most of my time on the Internet. Well, I did read a lot, so I suppose that was the one hobby I really had. I enjoyed camping when my family would go, and nature hikes. But we didn’t do it often enough for me to say it was a hobby.
This lack of understand extended to my tastes in music, clothes, food, you name it. I wore jeans and t-shirts so as to avoid developing my own personal style, ate generic American food without a lot of spice so I wouldn’t risk being exposed to something I didn’t like, and mostly listened to what was on the radio or what my friends were playing in their cars.
Beyond that, though, I had this amazingly subtle habit of picking up things from others and folding them into my life without even realizing it. A lot of people do this to a small extent, but my favorite example of this is when I started arching one eyebrow more than another after moving in with my stepmom, who also did this. I had no idea I was doing it until I saw pictures of myself and was absolutely shocked. I referred to earlier pictures, pre-stepmom days, and my eyebrows were even. I had this way of taking on anything and thinking it belonged to me naturally.
“Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known.” -Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters
I call this being a shape shifter. I have this gift of stepping into any trait, any habit, any story and not just wearing it like an ill-fitting suit, but actually owning it. To see it completely, inside and out. This is part of what makes me so good at my work. But when we haven’t developed ourselves enough to know the difference between a story that you’re trying on and WHO YOU REALLY ARE, this is a very dangerous habit. You get lost, you start walking down a path that ultimately leads you further away from YOU. Then this gift, this glorious way that you can look at things from a million perspectives and see the validity in all of them, becomes Shadow.
I remember when I joined the Army, I realized that I was surrounded by people who knew nothing about me. I could be anything I wanted to be, I could try on a personality. So I did, I experimented with what felt right to me. I went through many little phases, weeding out things that actually didn’t work. I started to explore a spiritual path that felt genuine. After having kids, my exploration was briefly put on hold while I dove deeply into motherhood and that strange trip that is the postpartum experience. When I surfaced a few years later, I was in an unfulfilling relationship and realized I had fallen back into the habit of taking on stuff that wasn’t mine: the doting housewife that devoted her days solely to supporting her partner. And I totally resented it.
Through the process of leaving a financially stable man to venture into single motherhood, I learned so much about myself, sometimes very painfully. But a lot of it was playful exploration, too. I tried new foods on fun dates all over the city, I finally made a point to go to the exhibits and events I always wanted to try, and I dove deeply into my spirituality. I learned that I can work hard and take care of myself, that I can also enjoy breaks and find adventures. I learned that I love to crochet for about two days every year, that I am a huge fucking nerd and I get sick if I drink sugary alcohol.
This exploration unfolds every day. This week I learned that I love to cook, six months ago I discovered that I love comic books. Over the past few days I’ve learned that I’m still using others as an excuse to hold myself back.
Sometimes I wonder if this will ever come to an end, like someday I’ll just know everything there is to know about me. And this may not be true for everyone (though I suspect it is), but I don’t think it ever will. I don’t think I will ever stop discovering new things. And I have to tell you, I kind of like that.