History is an enigmatic thing. Upon it we look to see people who remind us of ourselves, maybe more naive, maybe more energetic. These are people we see in photographs and with whom we share fond memories. They talk like us, have similar mannerisms, laugh the same, and look a little like us, too; one ignorant to the truth might pass us off as father and son (or mother and daughter). But the people we see in our photographs are hardly related.
We are not who we were, and we are not who we are going to be.
You will carry always with you the lessons and memories you and your past-tense self lived. You will share the same personality, the same DNA, the same talents, and most certainly the same effects of your formative years. But there is one variable that changes it all: the inability to interact. Time.
Acclaimed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and scientists who share his belief in Superstring Theory believe that around us exist parallel dimensions in which reside an infinite number editions of life. As I write this letter to you from my bedroom, the theory suggests that I’m surrounded by a million other Justins, some who are writing this to you at different speeds, some looking out of my window, some gussying up to go out, others ugly-crying for some silly reason. In my room right now I am surrounded by every possible eventuality that brought me to where I am. But I will never meet these other Justins. We live in separate dimensions, and with many of them I share everything, but we are completely unrelated.
Time works this way I think. We often tease ourselves with introspective cocktail-smart questions like “If you had to tell your childhood self one thing, what would it be?” But of course we’ll never have the chance. Just as we never will meet our string theory counterparts, and though with many of them we share so much, we’ll never meet the people we were.
Were we the same people then as we are now, we could avoid everything in the world we knew would break our hearts. Regret would be a fiction.
This leads us to identify the people we can change: us, unborn.
I talk to too many people who think it’s Too Late. It’s too late to study for the final exam you bombed. It’s too late to pursue your career as a doctor. It’s too late to find love. And, yes, it is too late to do a lot of things.
What happens though is that we let Regret, a thing born from our inability to interact with and warn our pasts of future missteps, dictate the paths we will take next. Regret is the most heartbreaking thing in the world, and it serves as the ultimate demotivating factor. It brings us “experience” and “wisdom,” and it makes us “mature.”
I noticed one day that my ex was acting strangely. I had to wrestle from him the reason why, and it shook me. He said, “Justin, I’m 30 years old, and this isn’t where I wanted to be. I wanted to have this life that I don’t have now. I wanted to have a family by now.”
Ouch. Ok, I think, maybe I shouldn’t have asked, but then he continues: “It’s just… Justin, you’re not a nurturing person.”
His words hurt me, of course. I know I’m not affectionate. I’m terrible at romantic things, I’m not good with children, and my priorities oftentimes are not in order. We broke up a couple of months later, but his words stuck.
Where do I want to be when I’m 30? Where do you see yourself at 40, 50, 60? And if you haven’t achieved the future you want when it arrives, will it derail you? Will you look to the hopeful you that you once were with resentment?
Or will you change the person you will become?
It’s akin to rehearsing and playing the strings in an orchestra.
May your practice make perfect.