When You See Yourself For the First Time
When I was eight, I couldn’t wait to be nine. When I turned eleven, I couldn’t wait to be sixteen, so I could drive a car. At eighteen, I couldn’t wait to be twenty-one so I could get drunk at a bar whenever I wanted to, hang out at the clubs until the wee hours of the morning.
Getting older was cool. It was exciting. Every birthday was one step closer to a milestone. I looked forward to something new, something that would define the next chapter in my life.
On my 24th birthday, things changed. A couple years out of the Marines, the pursuit of purpose was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. Taking that uniform off and putting it away in a trunk at my mom’s house I thought was going to be easy to do.
Actually, it was one of the hardest things I ever did. Putting away something that was my identity for so long without another one in place changes your life subtly. You don’t realize it until you wake up one day, on your 34th birthday and see that in the pursuit, in the chase of purpose after the service, you haven’t found anything close to what it meant to wear your name on your country’s uniform.
I could have bashed myself like all the years I looked in the mirror.
I could actually see that ripping myself in the mirror was a waste of time. The criticism, the comparison to others at my age, the search for a singular purpose on par with the military that may never end, all were things that did not serve.
It took me looking in the mirror on the day of my birthday to see I no longer needed to be cruel to myself with my time.
I’ve seen myself in the mirror before; every day when I wake up to brush my teeth, comb my hair and beard, floss. Over the years, I have watched the wrinkles form, especially the giant one that goes horizontal on my brow. I’ve seen the slow erosion of hair from the side pockets of my scalp. But on my 34th birthday, a shift happened to me. I looked in the mirror and saw myself for what I was, not what I should be according to societal standards; married with kids, homeowner, a large 401k. None of these things are wrong to think about by any means. In fact, I think every single one of them are things we should take into consideration, and I do look forward to having some of the societal standards. But, attaching when I should have those things in correlation with my age creates expectations. With expectations comes metrics and measurements of success and then comes evaluation.
Looking in the mirror on my birthday, I realized I’ve done too much evaluating.
Seeing yourself for the first time without judgment, without measurement is an awakening. You realize that the slow erosion of hair, the beginning stages of gray and the formation of wrinkles is not just aging. They are reminders that we do not control time and time will move forward regardless if we beat ourselves up or not. Your accomplishments, worries, and perspective are tiny in comparison.
And it scares the shit out of us. It scares the shit out of me that I have used what it has given me on not being kind to myself. But there I go again beating myself up for being regretful that I didn’t use time well.
So what are we to do? What can we do to prevent this, to stop the days of looking in the mirror and not liking what we see?
We have to be kinder and better to ourselves.
Time doesn’t care either way. It’ll go on without us. But at least if we practice kindness, time will seem to slow down.