The Wisdom of Your Former Self

Andy McKenzie quotes the great Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa:

I often find texts of mine that I wrote when I was very young–when I was seventeen or twenty. And some have a power of expression that I do not remember having then. Certain sentences and passages I wrote when I had just taken a few steps away from adolescence seem produced by the self I am today, educated by years and things. I recognize I am the same as I was.

Usually people shudder with embarrassment at the prospect of coming upon writings of their youth. It's the same logic techno-skeptics use when advising youth not to blog: Your adolescent riffs will come off as naive and immature to your wise, adult self.

Pessoa in adulthood found the opposite. His texts of 17 or 20 years old display insight of a caliber close to what he could have produced as an older man.

Isn't this prospect — that there's little significant difference between your youthful thoughts and adult ones — even more terrifying?

Since few adults today have records of their youth, it's easier for them to maintain self-serving narratives about how far they've come in adulthood. This will change, as more young people publish on Twitter and blogs. 20-somethings today will one day look back at those permanent and forever Google-able writings and either shudder in embarrasement as commonly presumed, or, like Pessoa, they will find them remarkably similar to their adult expressions. In the cases where there's no significant difference, the fact that one must work to become wiser will be unavoidable.

7 comments on “The Wisdom of Your Former Self
  • I find your and McKenzie’s perspectives on this fascinating. Here’s a new one: I’ve harbored fears for the last few years that my mind is being dulled by my lack of day-to-day intellectual challenge. I fear that I don’t think as creatively or as quickly as I did as a young man studying programming at a prestigious university.

    Though in reading old blogs I’ve found, much to my relief, that I was an idiot in my early adulthood.

    Perhaps I have, as you said, worked to become wiser out of fear of allowing the opposite to happen.

  • It’s not the same gap, but looking back on my writing 5-6 years from now, I recognize the same self, but perhaps with less nuance than my point today. Similar conclusions on many things, but not as many supporting arguments.

  • Oh lord. I’ve simultaneously marveled and reviled at the things I wrote when I was younger. I too, have had the sobering thought that I might be losing my edge as I get older.

    I consider that a challenge to keep challenging myself.

  • I took out of a box some stuff I wrote when I was young. It’s true I was astonished to see that ten years later I still find good ideas in these texts.

  • Scott Young’s comment echoes my thoughts.

    I’ve journaled on and off for the past 15 years and when I look back at my writing, there are technical improvements and improvement in style/flow.

    The thought process though is similar. I work through the content in the same manner I do now. The writing is slightly more layered, I define less, use more acronyms, and have an assumption of knowledge and ideas throughout.

  • Interesting. Is little difference between your youthful thoughts and adults ones terrifying? It depends on the thoughts. I hope I am as passionate about certain things years from now as I am presently.

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