Our youthful mistakes and experiments are a key part of our growth, muses Nicole Law.
While browsing some old photos on Facebook, I came across one of me beaming in front of my university building. There, in the faraway United Kingdom, the 19 year old me was struggling with the weather change (I had come from Singapore), time difference and getting lost on the way to the lecture theatre. The old photo album I had created was named kairos, the Greek word which means the ‘opportune time’.
While chronos denotes the passage of time, the years that have passed since I ventured to London to live and study are tangible in the sense of the changing of the date on my laptop as each New Year comes round. They are intangible in the sense that a smell or sound can take me back to the bustling metropolis where I discovered more – oh so much more – about myself.
Among the various photos, I recognise my old haunts, the cafes I frequented, the faces of friends I made and also that smile, naive and fresh, expressing a soul open to every new experience life could throw at it.
We often look back on our younger years with a faint sense of nostalgia. I recall a multitude of mistakes made – erring on the side of pride, envy and selfishness – none of which are unique to youth itself. I remember learning the consequences of words and actions. From staying out later than usual to trusting someone a little too much or feeling alone in a crowded city.
A feature of those years was the desire to be like everyone else. To try on various identities for size.
One day, I could be the hardworking student poring over her notes. The next, I might be the reckless youth who skips a lecture to head to a cafe instead. The fluidity of identity in those years remind me of soft clay, malleable to the gentle pressure of our hands.
Surrounded by other young people also learning about themselves, I recall that meeting new people sometimes resembled scanning them for traits which appeared attractive to me and sewing them into my own personal patchwork. Sometimes the additional swatch of fabric added to the beauty of the overall piece. At other times, it stood out like a sore thumb.
Not every trait can be easily assumed into our personality. We learn over time there is a lot of courage in accepting the odd-shaped patches which make up our own sense of self. Learning to accept that I looked different, sounded different and had a specific sense of style was not easy. The pressure to conform seemed overwhelming. The desire to blend into the crowd was alluring. It took a lot of self-awareness to shut my ears to the siren song.
Stepping out of the ‘self’ that pleased people and made them comfortable felt like dipping my feet in the deep end of the pool. Learning that taking a risk – joining a ballroom class for the first time, jumping on a train to Cornwall, and saying yes to love – was less scary than I initially envisioned.
The glorious freedom of scuffing my knees when I aimed too high or cared too much or laughed too loud.
Sitting with myself in the quiet moments of a winter’s day and meeting myself all over again…
There is so much I have yearned to tell my younger self … like how to avoid pain and disappointment. But this time, I pause. The twists and turns were necessary. The detours and deadends were built into the road that only I can walk down. Derek Walcott offers his wisdom on this topic, as on much else, as he writes in Love After Love:
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
I am finally learning to meet myself over again – maybe the real me has finally arrived at last.
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