One of the most used apps on my phone is Google Photos, partially because I enjoy looking at past photos but primarily because of the several photo albums shared with me by my mom. Each contains scans of scrapbook pages – scrapbook pages that tell the story of the earliest years of my life through my mom’s photo captions.
The captions give context to the setting and personality to the characters. They reveal that these pictures are of me in the past, not just past pictures of me. In simpler terms, the captions allow me to realize just how much I am the same as I’ve always been. How, despite all the life I’ve lived, I am not all that different from the girl I was at age three.
For example, at three years old, I “once again…breezed through the [cookie] decorating very quickly,” apparently unenthused by the activity. I laughed when I read this — not two months before coming across it, I had accidentally started the downward spiral that turned our annual Christmas cookie decorating into an argument by announcing that I was incredibly bored, “once again” unimpressed.
It makes sense. I am not particularly detail-oriented, and I’ve always done things on my own time or simply on my own. I like to joke that my greatest talent is saying no, but it’s a talent borne of necessity: I can’t function without alone time. As it turns out, I also “like[d] to keep to [myself] lots of the time” at age two.
Though this can sometimes spell disaster for one’s social life, I credit my introvertedness for my easy transition to college. It is part of what makes me independent and also very willing to sit unconcernedly in the dining hall by myself, or go to workout classes by myself or literally spend the entire day by myself. It seems that at three, I was equally unconcerned. I “marched right in” to preschool, “very independent-spirited.”
I could go on — I haven’t even mentioned all of the pictures of me with books yet, and everyone who knows me knows that reading is pretty much my only personality trait. That I am similar to myself shouldn’t have been a surprising revelation, but with the constant pressure to find yourself, it shocked me to realize how much of myself I already knew. It made me realize how funny the way we talk about finding ourselves is, as if it is a quest for external validation, as if the answers are hiding somewhere out in the universe. We travel the world and meet new people, and we grow because of it, but in doing so, we forget to ask the person most likely to have the answers.
This isn’t meant to be a deterministic statement. After all, I am in the midst of (enjoying) training for a half marathon, despite expressly hating running for years. I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me this even three years ago, much less ten years ago, when I finished the one-mile time trial last in my sixth grade class, red-faced from both exertion and embarrassment.
There is always room to grow. In fact, I think it is really important to reflect on the things we want to improve about ourselves. I also think that successful change often comes from successful self-understanding, and that our strange fixation with finding yourself “out there” isn’t always the most helpful. Change and growth will come, but you will always be you. Maybe “finding yourself” is just remembering who that “you” is, and holding onto that when life’s inevitable changes make it easy to forget.
Recently, the class of 2022 apparel was released, which inspired much more contemplation about the future than an online order form should have. My friends and I questioned if buying more apparel was worth it, if we would actually wear it a year from now. However trivial this discussion may have been, it reflected the overarching truth of this season of our lives: regardless of whether we have solidified post-graduation plans or not, our lives are all about to change, and none of us can really say for certain what the next few years will look like. For many graduating seniors, our lives have become unpredictable in an unprecedented way. It isn’t, for example, the same unpredictability we faced as high school seniors applying to college. At least then, we pretty much knew that somehow we would end up at some college, even if it wasn’t our dream school, and even if we didn’t know what we would study or with whom we’d be friends once we got there.
There are many more things we don’t know this time around. One thing I do know is that I shouldn’t have trusted myself to buy the all-white class of 2022 sweatshirt. I have always been a messy eater; the scrapbooks will tell you that. I bought it anyway. This was partly out of the hope that recognition of my own messiness will make me more careful (or at the least, better prepared to clean up the messes). Mostly, though, I bought it because I know that when I wear my (inevitably stained) sweatshirt, it will remind me of how much I already know about myself. It will take me back to when I was 21 and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. But I did know where I’d always been strong (independence, efficiency), and where I’d always been weak (scrupulousness, sociability). It will remind me of how far what I do know can take me and, if I’m lucky, let me worry less about all that I don’t know.