On change, growth and learning from the past

Have you ever looked back at Past You and cringed? Maybe you found an old photograph and wondered what possessed you to buy, let alone wear, that hideous outfit. Perhaps Facebook showed you a post you wrote nearly a decade ago and you couldn’t quite believe you were that naive back then. You might have felt a desire to digitally erase that part of your life and try to forget it ever happened, especially when so many folk on the bird site seem hell bent on dredging up the problematic teenage tweets of whoever is currently caught in their crosshairs, but… what if we sat with the discomfort for a little while first?

What if we looked at the root of what was making us feel uncomfortable. Was it the outfit, or the way you felt about your body at the time? Was it seeing yourself unfiltered and unconcerned by the gaze of others? Was it reading the partly formed thoughts of someone who was finding their way in the world and who didn’t yet have the words to properly articulate it? Was it just that social media has changed a lot in recent years and what you used to post publicly is now very much for close friends only? The specifics of what sparked that feeling of cringe can then be analysed. You might have changed a lot since then and learnt from years of experiences and mistakes, but remember that version of you didn’t know what you know now. Often we cringe because the image of us from the past – shown either through a photograph of our face/body, or via our writing – is not the image that we like to portray today.

Maybe we should all be a little kinder to our past selves though. After all, if that person hadn’t existed and gone through those experiences, you wouldn’t be the person you are today. Mistakes help us to change and grow. We learn from everything we go through and it makes us a better person. I may wish there were some things I’d not written, haircuts I’d not tried and outfits I’d never worn, but it happened and it all led to who I am now. From the girl in her early teens who had a perm because she didn’t realise how naturally curly her hair was, to the woman in her late 20s who explored her new found feminist values by writing on the internet* rather than in a private journal, sometimes these experiences help to shape who we become in ways we don’t expect. My hair may be better now, and my knowledge of feminist issues more nuanced, but would I have got here without Past Lori?

A candid photo of me from the early 90s, most likely 1992 when I was 17 years old. The hair is my natural colour (perhaps the last time that was seen in the wild), and I wish I still owned that Pet Shop Boys t-shirt.

That said, there are some things that we can safely consign to the rubbish bin of history without a moment’s thought. If you are someone who’s been on Twitter since the beginning then it’s probably time to ditch those early ramblings, about random shit you thought mattered to the tiny handful of people who followed you, and cleanse your soul. Okay, so things that are on the internet stay on the internet, but random TERFs who decide they want to argue with you purely because you have your pronouns in your bio are probably less likely to be able to find old tweets and take them out of context if you delete them.

In the few days of carnage that followed Elon Musk’s announcement of Twitter Blue, I downloaded my entire archive and then used Tweet Delete to cleanse Twitter of all the nonsense I shared over 5 years ago. Gone is the whining about Southeastern trains from 2008/9, and the poor quality phone photos with equally bad captions from 2012. Many of us treated social media as ephemeral conversations back then and so the window into our inner monologue was very much unfiltered. These days the vast majority of us are probably more cautious – I doubt we’ll ever get another Ed Balls moment.

There’s much to be learnt from our past though; the mistakes of youthful exuberance can help us become more rounded humans, and the shaky start we have when learning new technology often helps us become better at avoiding those pitfalls when we have a larger audience. Although sometimes you just want to run and hide from what you once wore/believed/wrote, it’s always worth reflecting on first as there may be some lessons in there. If you’d be kind to a friend in the same situation, why not be kind to yourself?

*In my defence, it was the early 2000s and I really had no idea about anything yet. May the goddesses of the internet have mercy on my soul. Main image credit: Geoff Fenney (a beautiful portrait cropped by me; forgiveness is requested for that too!)

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