It’s difficult to keep track of the pieces of who we are, as they are constantly changing, an appropriate observation as the only constant is, in fact, Change (especially if you’re a pan-handler, or familiar with the election platforms of two-term American President, Barack Obama).
On the cellular level, we change at a rate that we never bother to think about. At the end of every 7 year cycle we are composed of entirely new cells, and are therefore reborn as an entirely new person in a very literal way. In prep school, every year was a rebirth of a new version of the same routine: new teachers, new classmates (within a small margin), and new unfamiliar, scary things to overcome on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Also, rapid childhood development; wonder and curiosity and implementation of social norms and expectations. People constantly offering you pieces of who you are like sticks of gum or bathroom haikus or commercial jingles that you internalize but never quite know what to do with. Just a hormonal, emotional junk drawer of things that are individually useless, but which you can’t bare to throw away. After the first three years (first 1000 days), a concept that has been approached from a very basic, practical perspective, linking the aspects of life that nutrition and wellness may or may not allow a child’s life to branch into, developmentally there’s a lot going on. There are problems if a child is malnourished, and different problems that arise when a child’s body is appropriately fed but when their soul and developing self are allowed to be emotionally or socially neglected.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (I love to quote them) are with us for our whole lives, and we experience them within the scope that our developmental capacity allows for.
I’m borrowing from a page outlining the most basic tenant of this concept and basis in history.
They were originally 5 levels, updated in the 1960’s and 1970’s to what follows:
1. Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.
2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, etc.
3. Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, affection and love, – from work group, family, friends, romantic relationships.
4. Esteem needs – self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.
5. Cognitive needs – knowledge, meaning, etc.
6. Aesthetic needs – appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.
7. Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.
8. Transcendence needs – helping others to achieve self actualization.
The notion cites that we cannot graduate to the next level of ability until our needs on the previous level have been met.
I do prefer this graphic, however:
Maslows hierarchy of needs reimagined by Wendy MacNoughton, spied on the cover of ArtCenter College of Design‘s magazine
The top point of “art” has been removed, and inserted at the bottom in it’s existing shape, so the whole of ourselves teeters atop the point like a see-saw. It’s the foundation of who we are in any moment of our lives, an interpretation by or representation of a person we have never been before and will never be again, and it is a thing that we treat as just that: a treat, an exception, an eventually-after-you-meet-all-your-work-quotas reward.
To become who we might be, we must become comfortable with examining who we are and, by extension, who we are not. Our existence, and our evolution, depend on this examination, both individually and collectively. We do ourselves a profound disservice when we perpetually over-indulge in outliers; we are not faultless and we are not worthless. We are constantly struggling to exist, in every way, between those two extremes.
I tried rock-climbing once in my life, and it was terrifying, hanging for only moments on tiny projections of safety. I wore a harness, of course, but fear of heights (more specifically, the pain an anguish encountered by falling from them) is something we must train ourselves to un-know, and is not a thing that can be un-known after a single climb. There was the initial layers of anxiety 1)to do something new, 2) which specifically scared me 3) in front of strangers 4)which I was certain to fail at (because of it’s newness to me and compounding factors), etc.
On my third and final climb of the day, I had made about 1000% progress which, considering from where I started, was still a minuscule amount to celebrate. However, I found a bit of rhythm and a measure of certainty as I started to feel the difference between a foothold upon which I could reasonable rest, and one that only more seasoned climbers could comfortably tolerate. None of them truly hurt me, but some were more reliable, comfortable places to rest than others, even if only marginally. And the same footholds felt different the first, second, and third times through.
I postulate, then, that despite this being my only attempt at rock climbing, it serves as a useful metaphor for illustrating how to lead an examined life, even if the notion isn’t the least bit attractive to you, or if the potential of doing so is frightening. Revisiting aspects of yourself is like re-mapping your climbing route. Everyone stumbles at first, overlooks things, misjudges components…but those that stick with it earn the benefit of learning how best to carry themselves through life. They acquire grace, wisdom, foresight, and strength along the way, through repetition, and most often, most poignantly through a series of failures.
We do one another and ourselves a disservice if we are constantly simply glossing over our missteps. We need not dwell on them just to sit in one uncomfortable place, out of pity or spite, but to overlook the reality of our route, our trajectory, and our abilities (strengths and weaknesses, positive and negative however they are sliced) undermines anything that we might otherwise call progress.
To truly know yourself, you first must become comfortable in the habitual pursuit of acknowledging and confronting yourself. You can’t make progress if you’re catering to the needs, whims, and qualities of someone you are not.