On Reclaiming Yourself

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Jen at a younger age

“What would your teenage self think about your life?”

I recently posed this question to a client who had identified a gulf between the self she’d built in her formative years and who she is now.

She didn’t dislike her adult self. The practical, responsible, successful, family-oriented, community-minded world traveler she’d grown into certainly gave her pride. But she felt like a vital piece was missing: that younger self pressing into sweaty masses of bodies at concerts, decked out in a mishmash of psychedelic prints, her heart pulsing electric at the tips of her fingers, carrying herself with a don’t-give-a-fuckedness that was unimaginable nowadays.

When had THAT self disappeared?

I had to clasp a metaphorical hand over my mouth to avoid jumping in to share my own experience with this gulf — and the tremendous loss I was feeling missing my own teenage self.

Though the memories are fuzzy, I distinctly remember being in my early twenties and locking that girl away. She was fun and vibrant and energizing — but she was also exhausting. She got herself in so much trouble. She was so easily turned against herself. She was often in a state of blind panic. I needed a break.

The trouble is, I just left her there. I put on my business casual and wrote meeting agendas and sat through personal growth webinars and learned how to balance my macros. The work to construct this practical, presentable adult self was all-consuming — and endless.

Over the years, my teenage self would try to get my attention — usually after a third, or fourth, or fifth glass of wine, when I had loosened up enough to let the mask slip. But she was SO embarrassing to my adult self, who’d shame her back into a box under padlock.

In my twenties and thirties, I thought becoming an adult was about transcending my weirdness, falling into step, making myself acceptable to the people I’d encounter. But that self was still very much a girl playing dress-up.

I now realize the true work of adulthood is integrating our selves together.

This can happen in many ways. One is by making space for the gifts each offer. For example, my teenage self knows her feelings deeply. She is not afraid to share them, even if they make people uncomfortable. And my adult self knows how to care for herself. She straps on the life-vest when sailing choppy water.

Another way is by combining both selves into a support team. My teenage self can dream up something brilliant, and my adult self can project manage it into fruition. Or my adult self can stand at the precipice of something uncertain — and my teenage self can give her the gentle push she needs to take the leap.

I know it won’t be comfortable to have my younger self out of the box. She can be a wild card. I can’t control her, and I can’t control how other people see her. But I also know I can no longer live without her. She is my truest heart. She is where all of my passion is sourced. And she still has a lot of life to live.

Journaling Activity

  • Remember your teenage self. What were they like? What were their strengths? What were their weaknesses?
  • What does your adult self have in common with your teenage self? Where did they diverge?
  • What would your teenage self think about your life now?
  • What would it look like with the best of both selves fully embodied? How can these selves support each other?