In my early twenties I was given some very bad advice.
It was well-meaning, and it came from someone who cared about me, but it was still bad. This person told me I was too young to decide what I wanted to be and who I was. I needed to travel first. I needed to get out on my own and “experience life”. I couldn’t possibly know who I was at that age. But here’s the thing…
I have always known exactly who I am.
These are things that we hear our entire teenage life, and when we get into our early twenties we expect it to change, but it doesn’t. People still tell us that we don’t know who we are yet. Like we’re an entire generation of people walking in circles without a clue what we’re about. We need to “get out there and find ourselves”.
“You don’t know who you are yet.”
“You’re too young to get married/have children/worry about a serious career.”
“You can’t possibly know what you want to do yet.”
I was told I would change my passions, my opinions, my mind. That I needed to find myself. Like the real me was out there somewhere, backpacking in Thailand, or sleeping a hangover off on top of hot pocket wrappers on a fellow band member’s couch. The present me, the one that sat in the corner and read books all through high school, and would rather go to the library than a wild house party, couldn’t possibly be the real me.
This advice, well-meaning though it was, made me second guess myself very briefly. After that, it just made me angry. I was too young, so I couldn’t possibly know my mind? I disagreed. I very heartily disagreed. And so I wrote myself a manifesto.
I AM, a manifesto
I know who I am. I’m sloppy, careless and forgetful. I’m impulsive and creative. Filled with anxiety or happy and carefree at the drop of a hat. I have entire fictional worlds in my head. I get excited over the sticky note section at Target.
I’m both pathetically dependent on people for my sanity, and incredibly introverted and emotionally closed off. My house is in shambles but I feel bad if I go for one day without writing.
Wild story ideas stalk me like jungle predators, and I’m kept awake nights in order to daydream. I’m creative. I’m confused. I’m immersed in the lives of imaginary people.
Don’t tell me to get out and “find myself”. I’m already here. I was never lost to begin with.
I hold foolish, romantic ideas about writing letters, and each time I get one my heart aches just a little bit. I’m not afraid of snakes, spiders or the dark, but I live in fear of all the bookstores closing down. I dream big, of book signings and lines around the block. My name in lights! But a reader sent me an email last week to tell me my story touched them, and if nothing else happens, that email will sustain me for the rest of my life.
I know who I am. I know that through death and sickness and disaster, I will write. I know that if the world ends and the cities are razed and men scatter like cockroaches across the scorched face of the earth, I will use a stick to scribble in the soot to tell you the story of how it happened.
I’m me. I’m a writer. I’m Erin.
That’s all I’ve ever wanted to be.
What’s the worst advice you’ve ever been given? What’s your manifesto? Do you think it’s impossible to “know who you are” as a teenager, or someone in your early twenties?
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thisisawakeupcall
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/liz-grace