Halloween has never been especially scary to me and horror films have held little interest. The real world has monsters far worse than whatever fiction or fantasy can imagine.
What scared you as a child? Was it the monsters under your bed? Noises in your closet? A tapping sound on your bedroom window at night when it stormed? Or maybe just the fear that someone would leave?
By our adult standards, those are (usually) childish fears which wouldn’t scare us much today. But what if your adult self could go back 20 or 30 or 40 years? What if you could go back into your own mind when you were about 12 or 15? Looking forward into the future as you now know it, what would be your biggest horror?
I’d like to suggest that the reality of our daily adult lives would be more terrifying than anything else that child self could possibly see.
I’ve been thinking about this since last week — ever since I saw the cartoon above. (Jim Benton’s cartoons are frequently funny and insightful, so I follow his work regularly.) I’m not sure whether to laugh or feel depressed, because as I think back to my honest expectations as a child, I realize that what I’ve allowed myself to become would have terrified me.
I’ve done nothing that mattered to that child self or teen self.
I expected love, success and fame. I imagined so much of that future in very clear terms. I saw myself changing the world. I saw myself influencing great numbers of people and leading them to improve and protect their society.
I saw myself financially successful, not because I loved or worshipped money, but because I saw myself being rewarded materially for providing great value to others.
Most of all, though, I imagined a woman and children. I had a very specific picture of my future wife and of what our home would look like with bright and motivated children. Even as a teen-ager, I knew I loved children and it mattered to me to have my own.
I saw myself as someone who knew what he wanted and then did what was necessary to get exactly those things — and I was confident enough (or egotistical enough) to believe others would be glad to follow me.
But life didn’t follow the path I imagined for myself.
It started with small compromises — and those small compromises led to bigger ones. In small ways and then in large ways, I accepted a life which looks nothing like what I imagined for myself. And I know that if I could show my current life to my 15-year-old self, I would have been disappointed and angry and full of despair.
When you were full of hope about your future, would you have accepted the things you’ve come to accept about your life? I wouldn’t have. I know that. So I wonder why I slowly accepted certain things.
When you were young, would you have accepted the impact you’re having on the world?
Would you have accepted the relationships you’ve allowed yourself to put up with? Or would you have known you deserved more?
Would you have accepted the person you’ve become? Would you have accepted the things that your habits and decisions have done to your health and your body?
There are some aspects of my current life that my young self would have been satisfied with. I’m sure the same is true for you. But if you’re anything like me, the overall picture of your current life wouldn’t have been acceptable to your young self.
How did we get here?
We made bad decisions — first smaller and then larger — and we refused to correct them.
We accepted the wrong people and pushed away the right people.
We lowered our standards because that was easier than changing things that needed to be changed.
We made compromises in ways that we should not have compromised.
We expected people to put up with things from us which we should have known would leave us alone and bitter in the long run.
We took our eyes off the great things we expected. We lowered our expectations. We settled.
If my 15-year-old self could see my current self, he would experience denial and anger. He would say, “I won’t accept this. What do I have to do to change this?”
Nothing is scarier to me today than someone holding a mirror in front of me. What have I become? And how can I reclaim what my young self expected?
I’ve been asking myself these questions a lot more lately and I’m determined to change things. I sometimes forget to listen to him, but that confident and idealistic 15-year-old is still alive in me. I still want much of what he wanted.
Becoming more honest with myself about the horrors of what I’ve become is the first step toward reclaiming the heart and soul of what I once was.