The Betrayal of Growth: Moving On from Your Former Self

Have you ever lost touch with a close friend, only to hear about their lives later and think “That doesn’t sound like them at all”? 

Have you ever read an old journal entry of your own making, cringing at best and at worst, finding that the you who once felt immutable and immortal is trite and unrelatable?

Have you ever found relationships in your life becoming less compatible, even though the experiences you’ve shared together, your sense of humor, and the almost palpable love in your heart hasn’t changed?

Congratulations: You’ve betrayed your former self.

It’s okay – you’re practically required to. 

Growing up means molting. Progress, reevaluation, updating priorities, changing opinions, axing old habits and building new ones – that should feel as natural to all of us as a leopard gecko feels shedding their skin monthly.

But we’re humans. And we’ve got lots of feelings about ourselves that are intricately connected in ways we don’t fully understand. Growth can feel uncomfortable for a lot of reasons, and we’re not always in tune with why.

Sometimes, we’re releasing an attachment that was vital and meaningful to our former selves, but no longer serves. Sometimes, we’re coming to terms with selves that weren’t right to begin with, and correcting course accordingly. 

Sometimes, we encounter new information that inspires us to change. 

But at the root of the discomfort is a truth that’s hard to admit: It’s hard to escape feeling like by evolving, we’re invalidating who we once were, disrespecting our own legacy, and abandoning dreams we were once proud to have.

Self-Trust and Transformation

We change. Our lives change. Our circumstances change. 

Every change requires adjustment. Radical change requires an overhaul.

But as humans, we’re awfully attached to the concept of ourselves – “that’s just who I am” being a frequent tautological response to explain our feelings and behavior.

But “who I am” isn’t real. “Who I am” goes through a permanent and lifelong editing process. “Who I am” doesn’t describe a mineral or a metal, it describes a personality that is fundamentally an amalgamation of everyone you’ve ever met, every movie you’ve ever loved, every book that impacted you, every lesson your parents taught you, every experience that tested you, and even the food you eat most often.

“Who I am” is a fake idea.

And letting go of it as a concept that will help you weather life’s storms can be an immensely helpful first step.

Can your values not guide you, then? Can your hobbies not fulfill you? Can your heroes not inspire and drive you?

Of course they can! The you that moves on from the you that was can’t leave its foundation behind – the you that emerges contains a former self who thought Thoreau was the wisest man in the world, or needed the excitement of a new city every three months, or never thought they’d have children.

It can be tough to let go of, though.

An Eye Towards Future You

Moving on to a new dream might seem like giving up on the old one – and along with the dream, giving up on the person who believed in it.

Try to look at it like this instead…

The person who believed in that dream lives on. They were just impacted by their surroundings, as everyone must be, and used the superior reasoning that came with learning over time to make new choices. 

“I contain multitudes,” Walt Whitman famously said in his poem Leaves of Grass.

So do you!

Much of the world is in a transitional state. No one in the first world has spent as much time at home as adults as they have during the last six months. Plans have been dashed, families have been decimated, hopes have shifted direction.

It would stand to reason that some of us are feeling the pangs of personal transition… many of the things we wanted to accomplish this year aren’t going to look the way we thought they would. We may not even want them anymore.

And that is perfectly natural, reasonable, and frankly, inevitable.

Sit with yourself and try to identify what parts of your life your heart isn’t in anymore. 

That could mean finally kicking a bad habit. Maybe for you, it’s reconsidering your career path. 

Allow yourself to become the person you want to be without feeling beholden to the person who got you through the last phase of your life.

We must be always ready to meet the next phase, and the you that greets the future needs space and grace to grow!

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.