I think I knew who I was better when I was 14 years old than at any other period in my life. The thought kind of depresses me. At 14, I had all these intense beliefs and ideas about myself and other people. I knew I was “a hippie.” I knew my aesthetic of choice included vintage leather bags and fringe and tie-dye. I kept my hair long and wild like Janis Joplin. I listened almost exclusively to classic rock. But I knew I believed in art and in freedom and in helping others. I wrote and I painted and I read poetry and literature. I believed strongly in human rights. I also wanted to shave my head and join the Peace Corps, and I never doubted for a minute that that’s what I’d do.
Even in college, I feel like I was more sure about who I am than I am now. I was a journalist and I believed in that institution wholeheartedly. I thought for sure that I would only ever report the news, and even held some superiority and disdain for pop culture writers. The last big piece I wrote was an interview with “Call Me Maybe” singer Carly Rae Jepsen. Granted it was for the New York Times Magazine (#humblebrag) but it’s certainly not where I thought my career was headed. Nineteen-year-old Gaby would have some choice opinions for current Gaby. And current Gaby would find them cute, but ultimately worthless. Because I’ve adapted and I’ve changed.
As I’ve grown up, things have become less black and white — colored by experience and hearing about other people’s stances and worlds outside my own. I guess this should be obvious but at 24, which is very young still, I am constantly surprised at how my ideas and opinions can shape-shift. As recently as seven months ago, I might have told you something I believed and I might have really, really believed it at the time. I might have been rigid about it. I might have thought that was the only way for me.
And then you meet someone. Or you get diagnosed with something life-changing. Or someone has a baby. Or you have a baby. Or maybe nothing specific happens. Maybe you just read something or spend some time thinking about a topic and you change.
I feel like I change all the time. I don’t think I’m even the same person I was yesterday or last week or last year. In some ways, it makes me uncomfortable. It makes me feel like I’m not a solid person, like I don’t have morals or that I’m not intelligent. At the time, I honestly believe the views I’m holding but in two weeks, I could completely change my mind.
Certainly, I’m not made of Play-do: There are beliefs I’ve long held and can’t anticipate ever backing down on. I have always been and will always be a feminist. I’ll always pause the radio if Eric Clapton is playing. I’ll always think George Harrison is the best Beatle. I will always be a writer, in some capacity. (When I was home for Thanksgiving I found a journal of mine from when I was 13 and one of the entries just said: “Someday I hope I am a writer in New York City.” It made me cry.) So these particular aspects of me are non-negotiable. But I love debating or having deep discussions that challenge why someone feels the way they feel. And often, I am open to changing my mind. Does that make me the weaker party? Does it mean I don’t have values or direction? Does it make me too mold-able or, god forbid, too young?
I’ve been thinking maybe it just makes me an “unfinished person.” I don’t claim to know everything or to think other people can’t teach me valuable lessons. Like Chuck Palahniuk wrote: “Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everybody I’ve ever known.” (And yes, I’m aware that quoting Palahnuik in a 20-something, college-educated penned exploration of identity is highly suspect and unoriginal but go with me.) Maybe I know who I am, as a foundation, and then life will keep happening, building in the assets: a light fixture here, a couch here, a mural there.
I don’t think that’s anything to be ashamed of. A lot of us are “unfinished.” Maybe it’s better to think of yourself that way so you don’t get too set in your ways, strict in your beliefs or high-and-mighty about knowing it all. Maybe no one is ever “finished” and if you think you are, you’re about to be wholly and wonderfully and terribly surprised because that’s the way life works.