Your optimal self

All this talk about the Olympics has got me pondering.

I was distracted by that video of the fetching young athlete joyously dancing, and I thought back to how I would never have had a chance with her in high school. Something similar did happen when I was 15 or so: we went out west to visit my cousins, and their neighbours included a young woman who was competing in gymnastics. There was a tramppoline in the neighbours’ yard that i very much wanted to try, but I was so intimidated by her that I never even introduced myself.

Anyways, I got to thinking. What would have happened that week if I’d been a self-confident and reasonably-fit teenager instead of the awkward and desperately-unattractive one I was? What if all that crap in my brain that continuously undermined me wasn’t there?

But the implications of a optimal self go beyond one chance meeting. Teenager hood is where we start choosing directions and mixing in the world on our own. What choices would I have made if I’d had a greater sense of who I really was?

So let’s contemplate the hypothetical. You’re born the same person you are in real life, in the same general circumstances, but you get the kind of help at every point in your life that you need: everything from social training to orthodontia to a really good fitness coach.

For the moment, I’m imagining things like extra coaching supplied through the structures I had in my real past. I’m honestly not sure how much to allow of larger hypothetical changes, like great wealth or being born healthier. Food for discussion, I guess.

I think the biggest change for the Optimal Me, compared to my current life, would have been a gradual divergence through high school, until I went in the direction of art instead of architecture. In real life, I was aware of it, but I had no idea how the social aspects of being a working artist might be, so I went in a direction that I thought would lead towards a job.

In the hypothetical, I would be in better physical shape, and would have more social facility. So I would have had experience in meeting and greeting and making social connections, and I could have seen a hint of a way forward that would support me as an artist.

And after high school, I would have gone to OCAD (art school) rather than Waterloo… which would have resulted in my meeting a completely-different set of people from then on.

I think that better physical fitness would have meant that, ultimately, I would have gotten more done in my life. I would have finished cartoons that in my real life sat half-done for years. I would have figured out ways to travel, even in high school, rather than existing as I did in real life in a curiously-blinkered worldview in which I never even thought that things might have been possible.

And of course, I would have had the kinds of relationships that have eluded me in real life. Mostly with completely-different people, of course, not the ones I missed in real life.

So… what would your Optimal Self be like, and how would being it have changed things growing up?

Becasue I would’ve learned to drive: I would’ve had more choices for college, my work-study, if it happened at all, would’ve turned out better, would have had easier time dating.

I think about this rarely, and really only in terms of career (because childhood abuse has caused me lifelong mental health issues, a severe lack of confidence, and eating/weight problems that I may not have otherwise struggled with–all of which contributed to me dropping out of college). But it’s really hard to say what I would be like without having undergone that experience. I did very, very well in high school in large part *because *I hated my home life so much. I was so escapist that I spend most of my time reading. Those events may be entirely responsible for the motivation to become a bookworm, and to study subjects I disliked so I would still get As even when I hated the material; perhaps without that catalyst, I wouldn’t have had such a strong need to be liked by my teachers. Maybe I would have seen teachers as adversaries, like normal teenagers do, instead of using them as surrogate role models for my shitty parents. Maybe I’d have become a party animal and got lower grades. Maybe I’d have ended up dropping out of high school…

I just don’t know. I might as well be talking about a random stranger.

However, it’s a comfort to consider the Many Worlds hypothesis on rare maudlin occasions… I suppose alternate Rachel is an accomplished author or editor who loves to travel, doesn’t ever have to struggle paycheck to paycheck, and totally lacks issues with trust or commitment. =)

In an ideal world, someone would have noticed that I couldn’t see well at a much earlier age, in time for me to develop some hand-eye coordination and balance. I would not have been such a klutz, always chosen dead last in all team sports.

In a ideal world, the school systems in the 1950s would have had a clue as to what to do with a kindergartener who already knew how to read, other than skipping her a grade.

Thus in an ideal world I would have been grouped with others who were physically and emotionally at a similar stage of development and not been just a skinny little outsider.

My ideal self would have gotten treatment for depression immediately upon entering college, instead of suffering for four years in silence. I was always an introverted child without being shy, but I became cripplingly withdrawn in college and missed out on so many opportunities, academic and social, because of my depression and subsequent social anxiety.

It’s the biggest regret of my life, because I’m still suffering from the consequences. Still haven’t gotten that therapy either.

If I wasn’t as socially awkward when I was younger as I was, I would have had more confidence to approach young women and probably would have slept with more than I did, and given that it was the late 80’s, would probably have caught some sort of communicable disease and might not be here right now. So in retrospect, if that was my optimal self, I’m happy to life the sub-optimal life I have.

And I often wonder what would have happened if I’d stayed in architecture school, instead of becoming an artist.

Oh, and I would have gotten therapy or at least a support group after my mid-trimester miscarriage/stillbirth. And I should have gotten treatment for depression much, much sooner.

Wanna swap lives?

On second thought, scratch that. You probably wouldn’t want my life.

My ideal self would probably be an arrogant prick. One nice thing about my flaws is they keep me humble.