Paul Lester just posted an interesting little piece having to do with middle age, personal growth, and identity. It’s an enjoyable read, especially for those of us who are in the same boat (or, like me, have been in the boat for quite some time). Heck, I’m in my early 60’s and often tell people that I still haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up. And in a sense, that’s true (although somewhat academic at this point). It’s not that I don’t know who I am – I do. I’ve always known. I think we all have. We may think we don’t know who we are, but that’s just a kind of selective amnesia. We may not want to face who we are or maybe we don’t like who we are, but we know. That core personality is always there and never changes, no matter how much we think we may have evolved along the way. We are who we are.
It’s not our personality that changes. It’s our appetites. At different points in our lives we crave different things. Different jobs. Different hobbies. Different people. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s healthy. The point, though, is that at our center we’re still who we’ve always been. We’ve just changed the window dressing.
At one point in his post Paul says,
In the evening, when all is quiet, the questions arise: Is this what you want? Why are you still doing this type of job? What about your photography? What about the things that you want from life? Have I simply ’settled’ all of my life? Sometimes I just want to yell from the rooftop: “Who the hell am I and what is the purpose of all of this?!!!”.
These are all good questions, but again they have to do with what we want (or think we want), not with who we are. More importantly, the best way to answer them is to never ask them. Most of us who play around with cameras know that the “perfect” photograph can never be found by consciously looking for it. The harder you try, the less likely you are to find it. You have to let it find you. I think the same is true if you’re trying to find a “purpose” to life. The harder you pursue it, the more elusive it becomes.
I’m not being flippant here. Nor am I disagreeing with Paul’s point of view (well, at least not all of it). I agree that we all learn as we go through life, or at least we’re all given plenty of opportunity to learn. I just don’t believe that our basic, individual behavioral patterns change much as a result. I don’t believe that we “evolve”. I don’t believe that there is some fate or destiny that is ours alone that we must somehow figure out. That there is some great universal plan that we’re all part of.
Just be who you are today. Yesterday’s gone and tomorrow will take care of itself, one way or another. As far as I’m concerned, life is just an endless series of rolling the dice. You take your best shot and go with it. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. You can make a philosophical stew out of it if you want to, but it probably won’t have much of an effect on the end result.
In the final analysis, we’re all just tracks in the sand.