Who I am versus who I wanted to be... (photos by Jay Eads)

Who I am versus who I wanted to be. Life in my 20’s grasped tightly to the perceived dichotomy of desired self and true self. My solution to the process was perceived to be external: that what was needed is beyond - outside of what lives within and before.

I wanted to be something more than what I was. I suppressed the inner strength that naturally radiated within me with a defacing mantra of “Do more, Be more.”, because what I had was never enough.

Everything got in my way. Material possessions, weight, shape, and the dark, telling circles that bed themselves beneath my eyes. Financial status, intellect, and the confused desire for affection. My teeth, my dreams, my sadness - deep sadness. My childhood, addiction, codependence, and fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of discovering it.
I had to map it out - so I could see how and when to act and position myself in relation to my environment. This was the strategy I used to ascend to the "dream" and protect myself along the way.

The dream of “who I was supposed to be” became “who I wanted to be”, while completely neglecting the person that I was. Being “good enough” was a set of external expectations that had I imagined based on what the image of society loudly projects onto our existence and the ways in which I could never please my family.

Nothing and nobody is ever “good enough” if what your leading with is judgment; and accepting judgment from others is the same as judging, yourself. 

There’s an endless catalog of oppressive garbage out there that constantly projects insecurities into what it means to be old, or young, or healthy, or happy, or different. We swim in images of flawless skin, thin physiques, “fun”, and opportunity.

Why do we value aesthetics over experience?
The only thing that’s real is what’s inside of you.
Everything else is a projection.

If I were to be able to speak to my younger self I would say, “Hey, your hair is cool. It’s wild and weird and fun. You have earned the lines on your face, the circles under your eyes, and the smile lines around your eyes and your mouth. Those are your experiences of love, loss, suffering, joy, and deep thoughts. Your scars are your badges of honor. They remind you of the great pain you have overcome and represent the truth and the strength that you possess. Your life has taken the beauty of innocence within you and turned it into the beauty of resilience. There is nothing more powerful about getting older than becoming resilient.

You are a summation of those you choose spend your time with. Those people are investments and every relationship you build will invest into you exactly what you give to it. There is absolutely no exception to this rule. You already are who you wanted to be. Always have been. You are smart, and fun, and considerate of others. You have deep, meaningful relationships with a lot of incredible and inspiring people. You are open minded and have deep wells of compassion. You are beautiful when you feel beautiful, because true beauty radiates from within. You have a lot to be proud of, especially the strength to release yourself to a greater sense of vulnerability through each and every whim and wince of your youth.

It’s okay to feel sadness. It’s okay to be low and dark and weird and whatever you are because that’s whatever you are. There is nothing more or less than exactly what you are. There is no craving or comparison because that - that thing - all the things - every thing - is exactly what and who everyone is. We are all the same, learning the same lessons, with the same rulebook - just different road maps, or forest maps, or mountain maps to get us there. Acceptance is a universal objective.

Life is designed to unfold itself through a series of trials, fuck-ups, experiments and heartaches; all which reward us with greater or lesser senses of vulnerability. Often synonymous with innocence or weakness (or some combination of the two), vulnerability is actually achieved by transgressing innocence and weakness and is, through strength, the strongest state of being. Facing your emotions and developing acceptance, despite the pain that it sometimes ensues, will allow true vulnerability to rise from a place of strength and confidence, rather than protection or fear. It’s a process, and it’s okay that it’s a slow one."

Of course, there are at least two reasons that reflecting from the window seat of a new decade won’t be imparted to my younger self, and only one of them is that real life isn’t a movie. The other is that every part of who I am today is a summation and the result of who I was, and what I've been through. The biggest part of learning to love yourself is learning to accept every part of yourself... including the parts you probably would have liked to skip over. Your life is a journey, and every part of your journey is essential and to be regarded in gratitude; for in gratitude comes grace, and grace is where every challenge becomes a lesson worth learning.