Yesterday I bumped into an old school friend whom I’ll call Jo (because it’s not her name). I hadn’t seen Jo for around eight years, ever since she became angry at me after I mistakenly fed her baby daughter the first animal products she’d ever consumed, in the form of a benign looking Salada biscuit.
Jo always stood out from the mainstream. She was earthy, vegan, anti-organised religion, anti-cosmetics, pro-animal rights, and non-conformist. She was also angry, moody, and more than a little rebellious.
But oh, how times change.
When I bumped into Jo yesterday, she was in Westfield shopping centre, not the place I associated with an angry non-conformist. It turns out her daughter attends a private, Catholic girls’ school, her son is enrolled in a private boys’ school, and she was heading off to have a facial. Presumably with cosmetics.
Now, I am not criticising Jo in the slightest for altering her philosophical stands. I simply found it fascinating that she has changed so much over the years. Twenty years ago I would have pictured her living on a commune with her feral children wearing hemp gowns, eating fruit that had fallen from the tree, with dozens of rescued animals gathered around her hearth.
But then I got to thinking.... We all change, don’t we? If we looked back in time ten, twenty or thirty years, how far would each of us have moved from where we began?
As a teenager I was desperately insecure. I worried terribly about my appearance. I spent hours contemplating the meaning of life. I ached over boys who would never like me, instead of boosting my confidence by dating boys who did. I felt unsure of myself, uncomfortable in my own skin, and lacked any sense of who I was and what I could offer my friends, family and the world around me.
In my twenties I moved through studies, various jobs and relationships, projecting to the world an air of assurance and vivacity, but without the self-confidence to back it up.
At 30 I became a mother for the first time, and all felt right with the world for the first time. I knew how to care for my baby. It was easy and instinctive. I became the earth mother I’d always dreamed of being. I lost weight, I returned to study, I began writing, and I felt more confident and happy with myself than ever before in my life.
And then everything changed again. My second child was born. I couldn’t cope with two small children. Moreover, as my son grew, I realised that being an earth mother with an easy baby was one thing. Being an earth mother with a challenging toddler / pre-schooler / child was completely different. I lost my confidence, felt anxious, became, once again, the insecure teenager who didn’t believe in herself or her capabilities.
Now, at 40 (using ‘40’ in the sense of ‘very slightly older than 40, but who’s counting’) I believe I have finally come into my own. I’ve taken responsibilities for my mistakes and am trying to do better. I’ve also forgiven myself because I know I’m not perfect, and want only to make the best of my life that I can. I understand that I can’t control everything in my world, but try to make the best decisions I possibly can. And I take pride in my achievements, of all forms and sizes – my children, my writing, the chicken dish I made the other night after the first attempt failed.
Life is a journey. We are fluid as we move along its path. We change. We develop. We experience highs and lows. We fight ourselves and accept ourselves and push for change and change without meaning to.
I was stunned by the changes in Jo, not so much because of her embracing cosmetics and religious schools, but because she had lost her anger. She seemed happy, calm, and comfortable in her own skin. And though I haven’t quite got the calm thing down yet, I’m happy and comfortable too.
I’ve seen girls grow from lonely social outcasts to confident and attractive women. I’ve seen average students become spectacularly successful business people and lawyers. I’ve seen wild teenagers develop into wonderful mothers. And I’ve seen people recover from grief and loss to begin new lives.
For all of you who have achieved positive change in your lives, well done. Be proud. And for those still struggling, have hope. Life is long, and you cannot possibly imagine what changes are in store for you.
My 17 year old self would have been stunned to learn how she evolved. And, I imagine, so would Jo’s.