A father’s entry in a journal found in an attic:
“Wasted the whole day fishing with Jimmy. Didn’t catch a thing.”
Jimmy’s diary entry from the same day:
“Went fishing with my dad. Best day of my life.”
I used this story to make a point with a friend of mine at breakfast this morning and got to thinking. Most of us, including me, aren’t so lucky as to have a journal from our early childhood. But can writing a journal of our memories about our formative years also offer insight into how we came to be who we are? Many people have assured me that keeping a journal is valuable. So far in this life, I’ve successfully ignored that advice.
This morning, however, as I was regaling my friend with the father/son fishing story (which you can read in full here), my head was filled with stories of my early life in rural New Jersey. And it hit me. This is where my Knower/Judger rules were written. Under my dad’s tutelage (and my mom’s, and that of my neighbors and teachers and experiences), I learned all my “rules of life.”
Like many of you, I sometimes wonder why I always do this or that, or react in one particular way or another. To be honest, I probably only wonder when things don’t go the way I expect them to. Some of these reactions serve me well (in which case I don’t think about them), and others are pretty counterproductive (in which case I do).
The value in revisiting scenes from our past is that within them lie decisions we made about how the world works. These “rules of life” (reactions and judgments we make on autopilot) were likely not dictated to us by the grown-ups in our world, but rather by behavioral decisions we made about how life worked and how we fit in.
Piss off Dad? Get paddled. Rule: If you don’t want to get spanked, don’t piss off people with more authority than you.
Cry? Mom picks you up and comforts you. Rule: Whining garners positive attention.
Etc., etc., etc.
Later in life, with no recollection of when, where, or how we made these decisions, life throws a boss at us whose ego demands his path not be crossed. We know that rule. If you don’t want to get spanked, don’t piss off Dad. And then we wonder why we are so reluctant to make our wishes known.
Or after a bad day at work, we end up pouring our heart out to our spouse, kids, bartender, family dog, whomever. Result? Sympathy. Comfort. And we wonder why we’re always regaling our family with tales of woe at work.
So the parable of the journals made me truly wish I had a journal from way back then. But because I don’t, I’ve decided to write a retrospective journal of my life from the age of three to about seven or eight. Recreating scenes. Trying to remember who was doing what when I was involved. How my dad praised me and punished me. Bicycle riding on weekends. Family life. Dinner with grandparents. Stuff I haven’t thought about in decades.
The difference, of course, between reading old journal entries and creating entries based on memories is that the memories are coming through the filter of 65 years. I believe that some of my recollections are vivid enough that even today my accounts will be accurate. Others have shifted to meet my emotional needs.
It’ll be a great trip. I’m sure I’ll question my memory (“Is that really how it happened?”). And somewhere along the way, I hope to learn a little about where and how my K/J “rules of life” were formed.
You, too, might want to consider writing down in as much detail as possible some of the most vivid memories of your early youth. I’m betting you will discover things about who you are right now with roots way back then. Things to look for?
• What we like to do and what we don’t like to do
• What comes easy and what comes hard
• What’s fun and what’s work
• What we’re willing to settle for and what we’re not willing to settle for
• What we expect of ourselves and what we expect from others
• What we’re attracted to and what we’re repelled by
• How to get what we want
• Whether or not we can even get what we want
• How to make enemies and how to make friends
• How to please people
• Whether or not we can please people
• How to get people to do things for us
• How to succeed
• How to fail
• When or whether to quit
• How to become accepted
• Whether or not we can be accepted
• The types of people we like
• The types of activities we like
• Whether or not we’re going places in our lives
• Whether or not we’re stuck
So off I go to write the Life of Kim. No, I will not publish it here. I will share insights I get from any epiphanies, however. I expect there to be some. Stay tuned!