For some reason, I really love hearing stories from my parents about what I was like when I was younger. It’s never serious, just a “do you remember when you did this? it was so funny!” about really specific and unique memories or things that I would do.
I always think find myself thinking about what they said a long time after because a lot of the things I did then are things that I would never do now.
Erika, at age 2, would stand on the table and dance crazy and sing loudly in Mandarin. Erika, age 20, would probably be too self-conscious unless really really inebriated. Erika, at age 4, was so curious about how meat was cooked, she stuck her finger on a stove that was extremely hot and simply laughed and said “haha I’m burnt.” Erika, age 20, would probably have whined/complained about the small pain. It's debatable.
Of course, it is stupid and unrealistic to wish to stay exactly the same, but I find that in my younger self, there is this purity, this curiosity, this joy, and this lack of fear that I wish that I could still hold onto. There are so many factors that contribute to why we become self-conscious or more cautious over time. When we’re younger, we don’t know what it is like to be criticized/judged, we don’t care what other people think, we don’t know what is socially acceptable at the moment, we just are who we are. We’re simple and we want to know more about the world. Add in all these life experiences, people, responsibilities, social constructs and it gets harder to know if who we are, who we’ve become, and who we want to be is really who we are.
I spent most of my adolescence feeling misunderstood, like many teenagers do. I had a cheerful disposition, but was always feeling depressed inside. I was also extremely fragile and sensitive (more sensitive than I am now, yes it is possible). I’ve always been one to have so many dreams and plans, but was frustrated at my lack of confidence and inability to execute my dreams. There are still moments of weakness where I fall into this mindset, but I have mostly overcome that.
Thinking back at that time in my life, while I was still very shaky in my identity, I discovered personality tests and it changed my whole life. Personality tests like Myers Briggs (M.B.T.I.) made me feel like It was possible to have a grasp on my identity and be understood, be the way that I am, and be okay with it. It was just a reassuring voice that said, yes you do x because of y and guess what? There are people out there that do and feel the exact same way and you are absolutely not alone.
So yes, I was little obsessed (and by a little I mean a lot). I saw people and their complexities differently, typed everybody I saw and interacted with, discussed it and shared it with all my friends, and felt like I had a really firm grasp on what the world is like. While it served as a great way for me to learn more about myself, I didn’t realize that it could also be so limiting to my growth.
If you compared the descriptions I just gave of my teenage self and childhood self, it wouldn’t even sound like it was the same person. That is because we don’t always and we don't have to stay the same. We are not static. If I allow myself to think that my sensitive and self-conscious self, or whatever else I think is my least favorite thing about myself, is forever etched in my identity, then I will be digging myself a hole and living in it. It will be a self-fulfilling prophecy and I will be pigeon-holing my personality. One of my favorite authors, Malcom Gladwell, actually wrote about this in The New Yorker back in 2004. He mentions that while it is one of the most popular tests (89 of the Fortune 100 Companies use it), it is still inconsistent. We have consistent patterns in our behavior, but we can’t slot our contingent personalities (that sometimes fall in the middle of a spectrum) into concrete categories. There is also no way to measure the complexities of our ever-changing personalities, when there are always exceptions.
I was talking about it with my best friend, who used to be just as obsessed as I was, and we ended up feeling the same way. We both agreed that MBTI was a great way for us to feel understood, but not to place too much emphasis on it and take people and life so seriously with it. Because it really ruins the possibilities of knowing others for who they are and not who they are typed as and it really hinders the magic of getting to know someone, as they are.
Erika, age 16, might have let anxiety crawl up in her throat and choke her, and thought this is who I am. But that’s not who she is if she doesn’t want it to be. Erika, age 20, might think that she will never possess the fearlessness she once had ever again, but she could if she wants to.
So yeah. It’s possible I might dance on a table one day and introduce myself to every stranger and then retreat in my corner of solitude on another. I might be emotionally detached in certain situations but feel empathy on an extreme level in others. I might feel like I could be the type of person to plan a bridal shower in excruciating detail but take a spontaneous trip to Fiji the next week. It's wild and absolutely fascinating how things change, how we change.
My conscious and unconscious identity contradict greatly and my natural tendencies and controlled actions are often at odds. Human beings are so remarkably complicated, like oceans with boundless depth and color.
What a shame would it be to contain all the wonderful and magnificent and infinite layers of a person.. into just four letters?