This is me, before I became a lawyer and a teacher. You can see that, even at the age of two, I was captivated by principles of justice and right, and I clearly wanted to teach someone a lesson. I found this photo of myself at age two when I visited my mother in Massachusetts this past weekend. She had several photograph albums that she went through with me, as we have done from time to time over the years. This time, though, now that my own children are growing up, I finally realized that we were looking at these photos differently. When I saw a photograph of myself as a child, it was like looking at someone I had once known, but hadn’t seen since the day the picture was taken. When my mom looked at the same photo, she felt that that person was still there, somehow, in me. It is like I’m a giant party, and the guests are various versions of me at different ages, and if she mingles long enough my mother will bump into Cowboy Bill at some point. Maybe she will.
It’s probably natural for people to resist their parents’ vision of them as a conglomeration of older and younger selves. After all, who do we want to convince more strenuously that we are mature, independent people than our parents? But, much as I hate to admit it, there is a good deal of truth in that view. We carry echoes of ourselves. This visit to Massachusetts — where I spent the first half of my life — made that clear to me, as soon as I left the car rental parking lot.
Statistically, Massachusetts traffic is about as bad as traffic in Southern California and Washington, D.C., where I’ve done most of my driving these past 20 years. And if you had asked me last week, I would have told you I was just adept and comfortable driving in Los Angeles as in Boston. But now I see that would have been wrong. LA drivers are crazy, and Boston drivers are crazy, but Boston drivers are my kind of crazy. As soon as I hit the road, I realized with a jolt that I understood what everyone around me was doing — and they understood me! That guy’s about to cut across two lanes of traffic . . . that lady is not going to give me room to merge, but the guy behind her will . . . I can pull a uey here because the oncoming traffic knows I’m going to chance it. I saw the road the way Neo saw the Matrix! I had not really been aware of how tense I was, how much work I was doing, when driving on the Beltway or the 405, until I was back home on 128 and I no longer had to translate what everyone else was doing. The native me who had learned to drive there could take over.
Much of what we think about when we think about our careers is about progress. If there is one context outside of the parent-child relationship in which we want people to think that we are mature and independent and not the same person we were years ago, it is in employment. It’s all about advancement and self-evolution, and only the fittest animals survive. But being able to tap into younger versions of ourselves is not a liability; it’s an asset. You may have skills you do not use now that will come back to you in an instant when you need them. You may have preferences, formed long ago and then suppressed in a new environment, that if catered to can free up vital energy and attention. When you are planning who you want to be in your career future, it is important to consider not just who you are now, but also the myriad earlier versions of you who are still at the party — and who may be able to take the wheel when needed.