In so many ways, I've stayed the same. For something like fifteen years - basically, the entirety of my reflective writing life - I've had the same doubts and worries and insecurities, the same moodiness, the same gallows humor. Some of my closest and most challenging relationships have endured for a decade or longer. Even the central issue of my twenties - whether and how to continue in academia - while resolved, still informs a large part of who I am and the decisions I make.
But in other ways, I've changed. Reading my writing from five and ten years ago, seeing how agitated and terror-stricken I was, is almost painful. Of course this is an unfair sampling - this spring marks roughly the fifth and tenth anniversaries of my graduation from college and my completion of grad school, and many people find such transitions overwhelming. Three years ago, when I was moving to New York, I was almost equally overwhelmed (although in a more beaten-down way).
Still, I feel a lot more equilibrium these days (yes, really, the last year or so is what passes for calmness with me). Somehow in the last few years I've grown into myself more. I wouldn't say that I have a better handle on my life, exactly - I still couldn't say, with any kind of definiteness, what I want to be doing or where I want to be doing it, in ten or even five years - but I do have a better handle on myself. Ten years ago, I didn't really know who I was, or even who there was to be. Five years ago, I knew who I was, but everything in my experience suggested that I was aberrantly deficient in every way that mattered. Now, I have more sense of what my strengths are and how to deal with my weaknesses, and I'm comfortable enough with the whole package not to focus (most of the time) on why I'm not exactly like what I imagine the median person must be.
The bigger evolution,has not been in how I see myself, but in how I see my life. For so long, I viewed my life as something that happened to me, a set of tests that I could pass or fail, with each performance dictating the next leg of the path. I rarely thought of it in terms of my own choices. Circumstance and the people around me and my own lack of gumption kept me from really making most of the major decisions about my life in my early twenties, and it was a habit that became more and more ingrained even as I struggled to shed it.
But that has been, really, the story of the last few years - somehow, after I had resigned myself to it never happen, I took control of my own life. I took up hobbies nobody had ever imagined for me. I made unlikely friends. I traveled to places I never really thought I'd see. I escaped what had begun to feel like a life sentence in a modestly comfortable cage (that would be academia). And now, after almost three years here, I find myself with a totally different life than I'd ever allowed myself to imagine. A life full of evenings with friends and excursions to the theater and international travel, with a good but stressful job and a tiny, overheated apartment, the kind of adult life I would have imagined hopefully at the age of twelve and probably never afterwards. It is a life I really, really enjoy.
Five years ago, dreading leaving the town that I hated and that had become home, I wrote that I loved travel because it was so anonymous. On a bus or a plane or a train, nobody knew anything about me. They didn't know me as the grad student with tons of papers and no job offers, or the disappointing daughter, or the weird ex-roommate. I was just a girl reading a book or drinking a coffee. And that's how I've felt in New York, as well. Nobody knows me here; all the friends I could make in a lifetime are a vanishingly small fraction of the people I see in one commute to work. To all the people around me, I'm just a girl with a kindle. I could be smart or stupid, disappointing or exemplary, weird or normal.
I could be anyone at all. Even, somehow, after all this time, myself.