"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Simplicity
May 15, 2016

This Week I Quit Saying – My Younger Self Would’ve Liked

We could all do with being kinder to ourselves. This extends to being kinder to our younger selves.

This week I quit saying “my younger self would’ve liked…” I’m not sure where this phrase originated (if you know please leave a comment) but it’s become commonplace now as a way to describe something we once loved but don’t want to fully admit still appeals to us in our current life.

This fear of acknowledging the way childhood memories, or teenage nostalgia can sway us, is particularly acute for those born from the late 60s to the early 90s. As David Foster Wallace said, we fear being seen as naive or, sentimental. TV shows like Seinfeld and Friends taught us to insulate ourselves from that fear with cynicism and irony.

So, when we encounter something from our past, still reaching our heart, something making us feel sentimental, or causing us to pine for a simpler life, we distance ourselves from the mention by highlighting the irony of a thing from our past holding sway over our serious adult self.

And, we do this by saying, “my younger self would’ve liked…”

Arrow To The Heart

My daughter is a fan of the TV show Arrow. Amongst the current avalanche of comic book to screen adaptations, Arrow isn’t the best, nor is it the worst and manages to provide a little slice of absurd fun for us to share.

In a recent episode, one of the characters, Felicity, was struggling with self-doubt. In a hallucination, she wound up arguing with her younger self, over whether her life choices had made her a better or worse person. By the end of the episode Felicity decided to affirm her present life by burning a picture of her younger self.

That scene shocked me.

I can remember being in my late twenties, trying to be better than my teenage self, trying to be a better person. During those years, we hope the decisions we’ve made will define who were are in the world. We also, often worry if the social foundations we’ve built could slip and crumble, leaving us back in the doubt and reactivity of our teenage years.

Many of us voraciously throw out the markers of our younger years, records, books, photos, clothes, anything that seems to tie us to who we were.

Now I’m a bit older than Felicity’s character I look at those remnants of my younger life in a very different way. The old photos, recordings, writing, things I’ve made, and the like don’t just belong to me right now. They belong to my family, as things might be passed on. They belong in a way, to the people who are interested in my work.

And, in a way I’ll come back to in a moment, they belong to my future self.

Reaching Out To Our Younger Selves

Having a relationship with our younger self is certainly in fashion. The concept of addressing our younger self has gone from literary tool to common journalist trick.

In its best sense, addressing our younger self is mark of self-awareness, of how far we’ve come, as in this article where an 83 year old member of the House Lords looks back on her modest, troubled youth and the rich and varied career she managed to build.

At its worst, like this piece where Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx, claims his younger self would be extremely proud he didn’t sound like Coldplay, we see the kind of ritualised snark does nothing except make people sound old (and not in a good way).

An Uninsulated Relationship With Our Past

Looking back isn’t a problem. If anything, looking back with honesty is incredibly healthy for us. It can also be a tremendous source of wisdom which can and should be shared. I love reading what artists would say to their teenage selves in the same way I love reading what the very elderly would do if they could go back to their midlife. So often the advice resonates around similar themes; enjoy the present moment more, be kinder to yourself, spend more time with those you love, devote yourself to what you enjoy doing.

Insulating ourselves from the emotions of looking back is the problem. Perhaps even worse than that is trying to manipulate our relationship with the past to make our present self look better.

This is the problem when we use the phrase “my younger self would’ve liked.” We feel something, but we want to contain it, to box it up in some safe packaging, as if those emotions were toxic or dangerous. We don’t want to admit that a toy, or piece of music, or item of clothing we once identified with still brings up emotions in us, despite our best efforts to look older, more mature, more in control.

Looking Forward To Who We Will Be

I’m not sure this is a point we can all agree on or not, but for me, trying to look older, more mature and more in control is not part of the script.

I know I look older, there’s nothing I can do about that. And, I hack my life to try and be less reactive, because that’s good for me and everyone around.

But, artistically, I don’t want to repress emotions or try to suffocate them in cynicism and irony. That’s just plain self-destructive. We have to allow ourselves to feel deeply and be vulnerable enough to allow those emotions into the making and sharing our work.

Maybe it’s the passing of a great icon like Prince, maybe it’s watching my daughter get older, but I’m really feeling the impermanence of things right now. Sharing old videos of Prince’s performances with her, I’ve had plenty of “my younger self” type moments. I don’t wear flamboyant clothes or dance much these days, but I once did and who knows, maybe I will one day again, maybe next week.

I want to believe the life I’m living now will still be meaningful to me and those around me in the future. I want to believe the habits I’m choosing will lead to some kind of good in the world. It’s a sincere wish.

I’d hate to think that in the future I will become some bitter old person who can only look back with cynicism, which is why I’ve quit saying “my younger self would’ve liked.”

This week, I Quit is a weekly series where I try, in a personal way, to address the habit of overcommitment. Each week I quit something, it could be an app, a habit, a possession, a word, anything that had a hold on my attention. I explain why I made the choice to quit and what it was like. Last week I quit the blogging platform Medium.

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