“Who we are in the present includes who we were in the past.” – Mister Rogers
I’m a big believer in time travel. (My 6-year-old, Maggie, is, too.) After all, time travel happens all the time in our world, even when we forget to notice it. I love thinking about past and future versions of myself — both real and imagined — interacting with the present version of myself in some way, co-existing in an ethereal and yet simultaneously very tangible way.
And yet, I realized a few months ago that one version of myself I wasn’t at all comfortable interacting with was my teenage self.
Looking back on my early childhood years felt happy, and though there were struggles in my early adulthood I also overcame a lot and am really proud of the person I am today as a result. Those versions of me I was able to access and “spend time with.”
But adolescent me? I felt like I’d put her in a box, taped it up, and stashed it in a basement somewhere. There was just…a lot there, you know? I didn’t feel proud of her. In fact, she made me feel uneasy — she felt so distant from the me I am today. I viewed her as one-dimensional: often wimpy, hesitant to stand up for herself or speak her mind, quick to absorb and go along with the thoughts, feelings, and decisions of others, and far more desperate to fit in than to discover who she truly was.
The thing is, though, I started to realize I needed to take that box out of the basement, open it up, and peek in. I needed to take out its contents and spend time with them. I needed to do that for me, and I also needed to do that for my children (who will one day be teens themselves). To be the best version of myself — both as an individual and a parent — it was time to get to know that girl again.
I started working with a therapist to help me with this process, and…I was surprised by what I found.
Yes, there were some cringe-worthy memories to wrestle with and things I wish I’d done differently (or not done at all), and yet amidst that there were also far more moments of bravery than I’d remembered. There were times — lots of them — when I’d been able to show up for myself in both big and small ways. I don’t even know where I got the confidence to do those things at that point in my life, in retrospect. They felt distant from that teenage version of myself…but in reality I think they were parts of me that were just ME that continued to shine through, even during this often-confusing chapter.
I’d forgotten those things, or perhaps I’d never been able to see them clearly at all. I hadn’t been able to fully recognize the amazingness that has, as it turns out, existed in me from the start.
I saw parts of me as she is today in that younger version of myself, and I began to feel proud of her, and to have more grace for her. I’d been in there all along, even when things felt clouded and out of my control.
There are still parts of that teenage self I’m getting to know. Elements I’m working on getting over, or forgiving her for. But she’s no longer so scary to me. Instead, I have compassion for her, love for her, respect for her. She’s helping me do a better job of loving myself today, because knowing her makes me feel more whole.
If you feel similarly about past versions of yourself, I encourage you to get out that box that you’ve stashed away somewhere, dust it off, and get to know what — WHO — is inside.
I share this as a reminder that emotional work on ourselves, even though it can be HARD and exhausting and bring up uncomfortable memories or versions of ourselves, can be transformative. It affects not just us, but the people around us. It gives us the tools we need to be better partners, friends, parents, siblings, and children.
I believe the majority of us are doing our very best at any given point. Sometimes, though, ALL of us can benefit from having someone in our corner to help us level up what “our best” means.