Long ago, I wrote in a Google Document about a disappointing 19-year-old guy and came to the conclusion that one can only achieve self-knowledge when they realize they are very emotional people. Then, I put the Google Document away and didn’t think about it for many months.
I have been thinking back on this theory of self-knowledge, in the months since I wrote these words. It began when I went on a weekend trip over fall break. When I told an acquaintance that I was going somewhere, I was told that travel is ideal for getting to know yourself. I thought about this as I climbed onto the Flixbus from Boston to New York. As I saw those New England lakes that still feel new to me descend into imposing metal skyscrapers, I was naively excited by the prospect that I would learn all there is for me to know about myself in that delightful timespan of Friday evening to Monday morning.
The idea I would achieve some higher state of being within sixty hours was unrealistic.
After a weekend of wonderfully adolescent fun, I thought about what little I achieved for the purposes of self-knowledge. I remember feeling as if I certainly knew myself more than I did a year ago, two years ago, but I could not pinpoint why. I don’t feel as if my tastes have changed significantly, and I have always had a basic understanding of what I like. Root beer instead of Diet Coke, to name an example.
As I went through my Google Drive last week, I stumbled upon the words I wrote on that Google Document that now feels so old and outdated. I cringed, of course, at the clarity with which I can remember my sentiments at that time, how caught up in the moment I was. But when the embarrassment subsided, I thought long and hard about my original thesis and realized that I would like to amend it.
I think self-knowledge means respecting the previous chapters of life.
When I was a child, I was obsessed with rockstars. I wanted to be one, and I wanted to marry one, too. I remember when those voices which characterized a certain part of my youth came onto my clock radio, the way I felt when I heard all of those old dad bands, Genesis, Foreigner, Bon Jovi. And then one day, when I entered middle school, I decided to put my feelings aside because I thought I was too hip for this younger self.
For many years, I cringed whenever I thought about this rockstar fascination. This past chapter of life was written by a girl whom I desperately wanted to hide under my bed and forget about, but unfailingly, she would of course come back to life when I least wanted her to. When I used to think about this little girl, my stomach would contract with embarrassment. But somehow that feeling has since subsided. The result of it was neither a big trip nor writing a big novel, but simply moving through life. This is all to say that I now know who she was, and her motivations were not solely embarrassing. She was a person, who was neither all good nor all bad. Maybe knowing oneself is just the process of gaining complete control over how and when you look back on things, and not waking up in the middle of the night to great pangs of cringe over what you did that one time.
I sometimes feel as if knowing the past better and respecting it more has been a great relief. Because the world is less scary when we know about it, but so are we. And I like to sleep peacefully, fully aware of the fact that a ghost of a past time will not come knocking on my door.