It doesn’t matter how far back I go. The only constant has been change. There are times when I feel happy about that, because I think I’m a better person than I was as a college student (such as in this photo) or a young newspaper editor or as a publisher or as a political consultant.
When I look back at myself in the days when I filled those various roles, I know I’ve grown tremendously. I’ve learned more about myself. I’ve learned to love other people better. I’ve gained enough wisdom to see through things which I blindly believed because my culture had told me to believe them.
I feel good about coming as far as I’ve come. And yet there are times — such as right now — when I wonder if I’ll ever become the person I’m supposed to be.
It’s almost 1 a.m., but I’m out for a walk with Lucy on the darkened streets of our neighborhood. It’s a beautiful night with 67-degree temperatures. It’s quiet. There’s nobody except Lucy out here to interrupt my thoughts.
But in the silence and beauty of the dark night, I find myself full of regret and self-reproach. I think about things I still don’t do well enough. I obsess about mistakes and failures, large and small.
And I find myself feeling a creeping sense of dread that’s always been with me.
Am I ever going to be good enough?
Am I ever going to become the person who I was intended to be? The person I’m capable of being?
Those feelings conjured a song a few moments ago which I probably haven’t heard since I was in college. I used to listen to the words of this song and obsess about them — because I understood the angst and fear that were reflected in this song from Michael W. Smith’s very first album:
Who do I hope to finally be?
Is it not your life in me?
Yet the how’s too hard to see
Too many times
Will I ever finally be
The true, intended me?
Will the old in me be freed
And left behind?
— Michael W. Smith
“Too Many Times,” 1983
I don’t enjoy this sort of self-doubt. I prefer the times when I’m charging forward with absolute confidence and a sense of holy mission. Those are the times when I still get a glimpse of the person I thought could change the world. If I can’t rebuild everything — as I once arrogantly assumed — I can at least set part of the world on a better path.
But this part of me that I experience tonight — the self-doubt and regret, the will to somehow perfect myself, even though I know that’s impossible — this is an important part of who I am. It’s an important part of what has made me willing to throw away the self I have been when I’ve realized I needed to reshape that person to be more like the intended me.
And so I seem to be part of an eternal see-saw that takes me from doubt to growth to confidence and then back to doubt. I don’t like some parts of the cycle. I don’t like the inner critic who constantly pushes me and constantly tells me I’m not good enough. Maybe this isn’t even healthy.
But I don’t know any other way to get from what I once was to where I am today. And I fear that working through this vulnerable cycle — over and over again — is the only way that I can ever hope to become who I was meant to be.
Most people seem to reach a point fairly early in their adult lives when they quit growing and changing inside. My rule of thumb based on observation is that it typically happens around the age of 30. A bit earlier for some and a bit later for others.
But most people end up getting stuck at some point. They become all they intend to become. They assume what they are is good enough. They accept whatever success they have in the world and stop wondering whether there’s more to life than just producing more and making more money.
It seems to me that most people never become what they were intended to be. I think they unconsciously give up. They reach a point at which it’s easier to just keep passively floating around in life, constantly repeating the same things they’ve done over and over. Never growing or changing.
I understand why someone would choose that. I can even understand why so many people never even know what they’re doing to themselves — how they never know they’re giving up on their real selves.
I get that. Because becoming your real self is hard work.
It’s scary. It’s vulnerable. It’s painful. It can constantly re-arrange your sense of identity.
But the alternative is far more frightening to me. The only alternative is to become stagnant and to start dying — emotionally and psychologically. I know plenty of people who start dying in their 30s and spend the rest of their lives just waiting to retire and then die.
I’m back at home now. I dictated most of this to Siri as Lucy and I walked. Now we’re sitting on the front steps of our house, interrupted by nothing other than birds in the trees above and the occasional train in the distance.
There’s so much more to life than most people ever find. I haven’t found all of it. I doubt I ever will.
I just know that I am driven to keep diving down into the deepest parts of life — and into the deepest parts of myself — and to keep struggling to bring back the best of what I can discover.
This process isn’t always easy. It’s frequently scary. It often leads me into the unknown.
But this is what life is really like. This is what growth is like. This is what it’s like to become closer to who I was meant to be.
And it’s far better than becoming a stagnant, miserable shell of a person and just waiting around for death to finally arrive.