My former self
Something very peculiar just happened. Something that invoked a feeling so strange that I don’t know if I’ll be able to properly put it into words. So here I am, lying in bed in the dead of night, trying to capture this moment on my phone, because I feel like changing my position might make it slip away.
It happened shortly after I went to bed. I got a text from a friend, and replied with something about how I can’t do anything tonight because I have to go to work tomorrow. Then, just for the hell of it, I decided to Google Image myself. I was just curious to see which photos were attached to my name on the web. Most of them were profile pics from Facebook or frame grabs of YouTube videos. But there was one picture that I was drawn to.
It was a picture of me from the summer before my freshman year of high school. And I was mesmerized by it. Sure, I’ve seen old pictures of myself before. But none of them have ever made me stop and think for this long. This one was different. I lied in bed for about five minutes staring into the eyes of my 14-year-old self and thinking about what he didn’t know.
He had never had a job before. He had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. He had no idea he would spend the next four years of his life doing bullshit high school busywork before going off to an amazing place called Northwestern University. He had no idea what the world was like, having lived his entire life in the bubble of a Catholic school.
And yet, he seemed perfectly content at this moment. He had nothing to worry about yet. Stress wasn’t a real thing yet. There were no deadlines to meet and no bills to pay. He was just living in the moment with no worries. Carpe diem.
But I don’t think that’s what it was. Whenever I think back to the time before high school, I remember how unhappy I usually was. Ignorance was certainly not bliss. Neither was the ridiculously strict discipline and lack of personal freedom I endured for the first 14 years of my life.
No, the whole “no worries” argument definitely wasn’t what made this moment in time 5 years ago so special. After all, I’m much happier now than I was back then. I now have two jobs with deadlines to meet, but it’s mostly stuff I’m passionate about. I have to do much more work in school now, but I’m actually learning from it instead of merely enduring it. Stress is a very real thing now, but it’s that stress that lights a fire under my ass and inspires me to push the limits of what I’m capable of.
So why was I so happy in this 5-year-old photo?
The answer comes not from looking at myself, but the person standing next to me – my best friend from when I was very young, who remains my best friend to this day despite our share of differences over the years. Then I think about the man who took the picture – a man who changed more lives than he’ll ever know.
And then it dawned on me. I wasn’t happy because of what I didn’t know and what I didn’t have to do. I was happy because of the people surrounding me. People who care about me and don’t judge me for who I am.
This surreal self-reflecting experience reminded me of an episode of The Office. Branch manager Michael Scott is trying to sell paper to a potential customer, and says something along the lines of “our larger competitors can offer you better prices, but we can offer you better people.” I totally get that now.
If that 14-year-old boy from the photo could see into the future, I’m sure he’d give me a thumbs up for continuing to surround myself with amazing people.