Just When I Thought I Knew Myself
The Continued Development of Your Personality
Ihad an unusual childhood in that I spent a lot of it moving from one new country to the next. I moved countries when I was 2, 7, 10, 13 and 17 years old. So my memories are splashed with winter play dates with friends in America, rainy season afternoons spent in Nigeria, Saturday shopping at the open market in Cote D’Ivoire, and regular 4PM tea times with scones and jam during the years I lived in England. It was never easy moving from one new place to the next. I was always having to reintroduce myself to new people, learning new ways of living in another culture, and understanding new social norms and practices.
When I got much older and was able to reflect on my unique upbringing, I realized that I had picked up an invaluable skill: the ability to stay open to learning new things about myself whenever I interacted with new people and in new environments. Because I was exposed to so much diversity of people and culture so early on in my life, I quickly understood that different experiences and encounters could teach me about new sides
of myself. In order to fit into my new environments, I had to remain open to trying new things that took me out of my comfort zone, things I wasn’t always sure I was capable of. In Cote D’Ivoire, I learned I could pick up a new language if I committed myself to trying to understand when Ivorians spoke to me in French. In England, I rode horses for the first time and learned to conquer some age- old fears I had. This helped me stay open to addressing other fears that crept up as I grew from an awkward teenager into a somewhat adjusted young adult.
What’s most significant about these observations is that I believe my internal willingness to stay open, to explore new experiences, and to push myself beyond my comfort zones had more to do with the development of my personality than the particulars of having grown up in various countries. Someone who has lived in the same house on the same neighborhood for their entire life could also discover new things about their personality if they stay open to engaging the world around them with curiosity and courage.
Because the truth is our worlds are always changing in some way or another, even when we may not want them to. New people move into our neighborhoods and we have the opportunity to encounter another culture or perspective that might open up or trigger something new within our own ways of engaging the world. New technological devices make old ones obsolete and we have the opportunity to learn new skills that remind us we are never too old to be students of life and the world. Unexpected circumstances good and not so good arise in our personal lives that challenge us in how we think ourselves capable of responding.
“The reality is that no matter how old we get, most of us can still discover new things about our personalities that surprise us, scare us, delight us, and most importantly of all, remind us that we are still alive and growing.”
All too often, we reach a certain age in our lives when we expect ourselves to have things all figured out, to have a clear and defined sense of self, to know what we want, what we like, and what we can and can’t do with our minds and our bodies. There is a certain peace to reaching such a stage. But the reality is that no matter how old we get, most of us can still discover new things about our personalities that surprise us, scare us, delight us, and most importantly of all, remind us that we are still alive and growing. That alone is a beautiful thing worth celebrating and practicing. ■