When I was a little girl, I knew I was meant to be an entertainer. I could just feel it in my bones. When I was really small, I lived in leotards and ballet slippers, and was never nervous about dance recitals. As a pre-teeen, I begged my father to let me tell jokes on the small stage in his comedy club. In high school, I was a disc jockey and played in the band.
By age sixteen, I knew I would be a writer. I uncovered a love of literature and poetry as I voraciously worked my way through book after book after book. My clarinet was abandoned, dance classes were dropped, I traded the tutu for flannel and combat boots, and set my sights on journalism with a side of creative writing. Anything that allowed me to put pen to paper.
In my twenties, I knew I was a geologist. Science sucked me in my sophomore year of college, and against every instinct, I decided to try it out. Literature classes were replaced with chemistry, physics, and calculus and for the first time in my young life, I struggled in school. I had always been afraid of science, was never an outdoorsy type, but geology had me captivated. The only things I wrote were scientific in nature. My whole identity was turned upside down, and it was exciting and terrifying in equal measure.
And by 31, I knew I was a mother. Having a child felt like the meaning of life, more fulfilling than geology or writing or, well, anything really. Raising happy, wonderful children was all I wanted to do…for a while. There was always the pull of career, the thrill of science, and my old desire to write, which reappeared in force with an added twist: I wanted to publish. Not just write, but publish something I created. A new, arduous journey began.
In my forties, I…well, I know now that I am a unique mash-up of all the people I aspired to be. I still have the entertainer in me. She comes out when I find myself on stage, teaching a class of 500 students or giving a talk about the wonders of earth science. The writer is there too, holding on for dear life seven years into the struggle to publish. She has days when she wants to give up, and others when she thinks she is more a part of me than the woman scientist will ever be. The teacher, the mother, and a few I found along the way (outdoor adventurer, public speaker) are also lurking in the shadows – they are are all important pieces of who I am.
But so, too, are the pieces yet uncovered. I know there is more to dig up. I know I’m not done meeting myself.
If you asked me when I was a little girl, or a teen, or a young mother, who I was “meant” to be, she wouldn’t look much like who I am today. It used to bother me a little, this feeling that I didn’t truly know myself, that I somehow veered from the path I was meant to tread. But in throwing what I knew about “me” out the window, I found acceptance in not knowing exactly who I am. Maybe we cannot ever fully know. Maybe the way to uncover the puzzle pieces of our true selves is to say yes to things that don’t quite fit, dive into experiences that scare us, and wander away from the easy path. Eventually, we will put it all together. Or we won’t. If we’re lucky, lots of pieces won’t fit, and if we’re even luckier, we can keep trying new ones.
Perhaps it’s in the spaces, the blanks in between everything we think we know about ourselves, where we find the most beautiful parts of who we are meant to be.