Friday, September 20, 2013


I have a question for my readers: Do you feel a sense of continuity in your life, or do you feel disconnected from your self of 5 or 10 or 15 years past? As for me, I don't feel any strong disconnect between my 15-year old self and my 27-year old self. I think I think the same way, I have many of the same interests, and similar shortcomings (whether that means I was a very mature 15-year old or am a very immature 27-year old I leave to others). It's not that nothing has changed at all, but it feels like change within a single continuity, not like the younger me was a different person at altogether.

But I often hear people talk about how they were "a totally different person at 15," how that apparently separate human was "such an idiot." Sometimes it comes in the form of supporting more paternalistic protections for younger persons -- "when I was 15, I thought I was an adult and in control, but I actually had no idea what I was doing." When I hear someone say that at 25, I always assume they will say the same thing about their 25 year old self at 35. Somewhere I imagine an eighty-year old woman telling others at a nursing home how at 70 she was such an ignorant little tart.

In any event, that's my vantage point, but I gather it's not the only one. So -- do you feel a sense of continuity with your younger self, or do you view him or her as a distinct and separate entity from who you are today?


Anonymous said...

At 25, I seem to meet the threshold for answering the question.
I have changed a lot but certainly feel like changes have been incremental rather than discontinuous.
Is this actually what people mean when they say things like that, though? When a parent of 10+ yoa kids says something like this I generally conflate the comment to the sentiments of "I wish that I knew what I know now / when I was younger..." etc, and that certainly isn't as extreme as you describe. Then again, there may be a threshold of reasonability that generally requires more than 10 years to elapse. Extenuating character-forming circumstances such as military service, perhaps?

PG said...

I feel a sense of continuity with my personality when I was younger (and most people who have known me for a long time seem to think I am essentially the same in that respect), but I don't think there's anything odd about thinking that younger self was much stupider. That seems inevitable -- the younger self just didn't know as much, had less experience, was more easily influenced by others, etc. I'm not even sure it was so much a function of age in itself as of the lack of experience -- the incredibly stupid things I did in my first couple romantic relationships strike me as far more related to the fact that these were my first couple romantic relationships than to my age at the time. If I'd started having relationships later, I'd probably have done stupid things out of inexperience then too. To that extent, I sincerely hope and expect an older self to look back on the PG of 2013 and shake her heard disapprovingly at the stupid things I do now because I'm still learning as I go along.

PG said...

Or to put it in pop culture terms: Taylor Swift sings, "'Cause when you're fifteen and somebody tells you they love you/ You're gonna believe them/ When you're fifteen and your first kiss/ Makes your head spin 'round" -- I don't think this has as much to do with fifteen-ness as with first-ness. I've known 15 year olds who were jaded about being told someone loved them; I've known 25 year olds who were utterly naive and gullible in the face of these firsts.

EW said...

1. Yes, I identify with my younger self, and don’t generally see discontinuities in my thinking. That said, I can identify certain events -- my first econ class, an introduction to General Semantics, taking a seminar with The Forum/EST – that have altered my patterns of thought.
2. I suspect people speak dismissively about their past selves to promote some current psychological need. In particular, I suspect people speak this way to bolster their view that they are in a position to pass judgment on younger people. But when I read my old writings, I am astonished to find that I was pretty much as thoughtful as I am today. I always expect to find a much callower youth.

3. However, as Cat Stevens remarked, “You will still be here tomorrow -- but your dreams may not.” As I approach 50, my ambitions have changed. I no longer see the world as a vast array of possibilities. Rather, I’ve chosen a career and a wife and a house and a couple kids; I’m dug in. The idea of publishing that next article, composing that next song – the idea is still there, but the ambition isn’t. It won’t achieve anything except ego gratification – and that’s just not a sufficient driver anymore. As change seems ever less likely for me, my dreams focus ever more on my wife and kids.

Perhaps related to this: I used to obsess about the road not traveled, but now this is a pretty stale line of reflection. When I encounter my old girlfriend and we really connect, I get a real charge out of it – but I don’t come away thinking, “If only….” Because I can honestly say that if we’d stayed together, I suspect neither of us would have become the people we are today, the people who now find each other so interesting.

Then again, maybe that’s just me, underestimating my past self again….