Quite some time ago now, a friend of mine was going through a bit of a downer. She was a bit dissatisfied with her life and she found herself thinking about what she was expecting when she was seven and wondered what her seven-year-old self would make of her now. It’s an odd thought. And yet I seem to be having thoughts along similar lines myself. Maybe it’s a symptom of my own sense of personal dissatisfaction. I know I’m capable of better than this, my minimum wage job that isn’t making ends meet and my collapsing health, yet I can’t seem to bring myself back to a point where I feel in control.
At the age of seven, I never had a sense of ‘when I’m X years old’. There was sense of being an older child, then one of adulthood. Adulthood, of course, was an impossibly long way away. I knew academically that I wasn’t going to be a child forever but I wasn’t in a position to imagine being one of those enormous, infinitely wise beings that ran the world around me. I think it kind of made my expectations unrealistic.
For one thing, I wanted to be a doctor. I know now that, however scientifically capable I am, I have the analytical mindset of a historian more than anything else. Furthermore my sense of empathy is more geared towards difficulties of the mind than the body. I was never going to be able to take the scientific route and my moving to a more humanities-oriented school for my GCSEs killed the last of that early ambition. So I am not studying medicine right now. There’s my first surprise for my past self.
Secondly, I expected to do the very middle-class, family-oriented thing with my life. House, car, wife, pet Labrador, 2.4 children… you know the drill. Really, that’s the lifestyle I still crave, yet I’m not even on the first steps to getting there. I’ve failed miserably at every turn when it comes to romantic relationships and things are not looking like they’re going to get any better on that front. I can’t drive either. I suppose I can still get a dog, but there doesn’t seem to be much point anymore.
Have I failed myself? I’m not sure. If my seven-year-old self was confronted with my twenty-two-year-old self, I don’t think he’d be disappointed. Shocked, maybe. I don’t think he’d think of me as something to aspire to. Yet the things I admire about him are still there. My sense of justice is still rattling away in there as the single biggest influence on my decisions. Likewise, I still question the world around me with the same cynicism I always did; I won’t fall into a system blindly. Maybe seven-year-old Rob wouldn’t appreciate the significance of that, but it means that twenty-two-year-old Rob still has hope.