On reinventing yourself
Sun Dec 10, 2017 · 6 min read
Sun Dec 10, 2017 · 6 min read
It’s Tuesday morning. You wake up and look at yourself in the bathroom mirror and notice for the first time that there’s a fugly corkscrew-shaped horn sticking out of your forehead. Huh, you think to yourself, that’s slightly disconcerting. I wonder how long that’s been there? Then you go make coffee.
It’s Wednesday morning. You wake up and look at yourself in the bathroom mirror and see that the fugly corkscrew-shaped horn on your forehead is still there. It might just be your imagination, but it looks a little longer than it did yesterday. Huh, you say to yourself, that’s rather odd. Then you go make coffee.
It’s Thursday morning. You’re on your way out the front door when the tip of your fugly corkscrew-shaped horn clonks on the top of the doorframe. You realize it’s now two feet long. Huh, you say to yourself, how strange. You duck on your way out the door.
Some months later, you’re at a dinner party. There’s a kink in your neck from ducking through doors and standing under low ceilings all day, but you’re having a drink and you actually feel pretty all right. You’re talking with some nice folks about the complexities of finding t-shirts with large neckholes when someone suddenly asks you, “Have you noticed that there’s a rather enormous fugly corkscrew-shaped horn growing out of your forehead?”
“Oh, that,” you say, “that’s nothing new.”
As a kid, I spent a lot of time playing fantasy role play games. With a small band of friends I cultivated online forum groups where we collectively wrote sprawling stories as different characters. The first of these universes was a medieval fantasy castle deep in the forests on the edge of the explored world. My character was a benevolent and generous warrior queen who welcomed strange travelers like family. She maintained the crumbling castle with some vaguely defined magical powers and generally floated around looking regal.
In my teens, another forum spawned a world of fast racing cars and entirely unrealistic street fights in a gritty urban inner city. I wrote as a young and rebellious twenty-something runaway who spoke as fast and as recklessly as she drove.
I have no illusions as to where these characters came from. At the time of their creation, they embodied a facet of something I desired to be.
Over my years of writing stories in forums and other text-based RPG games, I heard plenty of opinions on my hobby from people I admired. Common themes were, “it’s just escapism,” “you’ll grow out of it,” and, “maybe you should spend more time on something productive instead.”
As I got older, my focus naturally shifted to finishing school, finding work, and building a life for myself. But something else happened that I didn’t intend, and worse, I didn’t notice: I started believing those opinions. Imagining myself as a different person, or in different situations, became escapism. I grew out of it. I did other, more productive things instead.
I completed a fine arts degree as a young adult and like so many other recently disillusioned hopefuls, promptly got a job as a barista. I did all right for myself there and within a year, I supervised other baristas. Then I managed the bistro. Then I got a job with a homebuilding company as a “Showroom Manager,” which as it turns out, is just a fancy name for “decently paid secretary.” In moving from job to job, I traversed roughly 20 square km of the city. I didn’t aspire to much more than getting my paycheck, getting promoted, and then getting a slightly larger paycheck.
I spent my paycheck on clothes from companies who wrote great stories about what the clothes were for. I bought expensive coffee and fancy pastries at a photogenic cafe. I got a little fat. I played addictive farming games on my phone at my desk whenever no one else was around. I was so. Fucking. Bored.
Worst of all, though, I got comfortable with being bored. I saw no incentive to seek change.
Some years later, I got lucky, in a way. I had coasted along being bored for long enough that I got into a relationship which, at the time, seemed exciting. It turned out to be not the best relationship, and in some ways, quite unhealthy. It got bad enough that it forced me out of a comfortable boredom and into a very uncomfortable, unsustainable limbo. Though I’d never have wished my situation on anyone, in retrospect I believe it was precisely the kick in the ass that I needed. I reached a point where I had to make a change. I was forced to stop coasting.
Reaching this point required me to do something that I’d been avoiding doing for years: I had to imagine myself in a different life.
It wasn’t just for fantasy role play, this time. That made it much scarier, of course, but otherwise it was no different than creating a new character. In fact, I had a few advantages to make up for the scariness of it. This time, I had the advantage of knowing everything I’d learned in life so far. I had my adult sensibilities, resources, and an idea of the things that were realistically possible for me.
I looked upon this as a unique opportunity. I was breaking out of a stale, unhealthy situation. I had a chance to completely start over and intentionally create a better life for myself. I could start right away.
The life I imagined myself into was one of nomadic travel, minimalist possessions, and a sense of self-confidence and independence like I’d never had before - but this part, actually, is irrelevant to the moral of the story.
You can imagine any character you want.
It took a few bad years to rattle me out of my comfort zone enough to make me do this for myself. I had to be convinced that whatever reality I put myself in next had to be good enough to be worth the transition: worth leaving the comforting familiarity of even a bad situation.
As it turns out, it wasn’t good enough. It was way the fuck better.
I won’t claim that every leap of faith and experiment I’ve tried since setting out with my life in a backpack has worked out for the better. But there’s one major difference between my life now and my life then that has made it that much more awesome: I no longer resist imagining myself differently. It’s not escapism, something to grow out of, or unproductive. It’s being conscious of a desire for something different. It’s how you prevent yourself from getting too comfortable, too bored. It’s how you keep moving forward.
You can start right away.