How many lives have I lived?

I recently happened to read a blog post by famed Youtube video person C.G.P. Grey with an interesting title “I Have Died Many Times.” I also listened to him discuss it on the Hello, Internet! podcast. The  blog post really spoke to me. It was about how we are slowly reborn every moment of our lives and after a while, we are in most aspects a new person. As Grey eloquently puts it:

Like the Ship of Theseus your mind replaces itself one small part at a time. Memories fade, memories exaggerate, the new pushes out the old. It happens slowly, but it happens, until your mind is an new inhabitant of an old skull.

It is an interesting idea and I too have thought about my younger self as a very different person to who I am now. Even 10 years ago I felt like I would have really hated my per-teen self in a universe where I would have had the chance to meet him. Today I feel like I would go crazy trying to talk to my 17 year old self. While he wouldn’t be more annoying to talk to than the average 17 year old, I do feel like he would aggravate me to no end just because I used to be him – and then again… I am not him – not today.

The main point in Greys article is the importance of letting go of ones past – to reinvent oneself over and over again. This is something that I fully agree with. The past has an influence on how we get to the point we are today but it has very little to do with who we are today. It almost doesn’t matter. You are here now. 

I am fully aware that some of this may sound unpleasantly New-Age-like. Grey also brought this out about his own article but it is a difficult topic to cover without having it sound a bit wishy-washy so let’s just try to continue…

I have had an interesting opportunity to live in several different places. This has made self reinvention a lot easier as you not only leave your past behind mentally, you have physical distance. The first time this happened was when I went to the university. I got to go to Tartu University which meant moving 200 km away from most of my friends at the time. It meant moving away from the past.

At the time I felt quite a bit of sadness and I naturally I understand why that was. After all, leaving behind your family and friends (who you have seen almost everyday for the past 10 years) is not easy. I wasn’t escaping, at least not consciously anyway.  I actually enjoyed a lot of my high school time. So I ended up visiting my friends, visiting my school, my parents, my home, my town etc. quite often. Letting go was hard. But you know what? I made a lot of amazing new friends and had really amazing opportunities as did my old friends. Going back wasn’t important all of the sudden – and really it was complicated… everyone had changed and so had I.

The second big change was moving to Sweden and this one was a biggie. At least when I moved to Tartu I had some friendly faces. A few of my old classmates and friends joined me. I also had friends in Tartu before. There was no big culture shock. I just had to learn to heat up rice and pasta and see that the bills are payed on time. With Sweden I just had a job I wanted.

A new country, a new language and no familiar faces. A year before I didn’t even know the town I was moving to existed. Irregardless the first year in Sweden still felt like a bit of a transition. Since my girlfriend was still in Estonia at the time, I would try to visit as often as I could. Every time I got off the boat in “the old country” I felt a rush of serotonin in my brain and the first two days I almost felt like I was high. The happiness was quickly replaced by depression when I got back to Sweden. I still couldn’t let go.

While the time with my girlfriend, family and friends was definitely enjoyable, it was not sustainable. With every visit my friends grew more distant and in all honesty – I felt like my time in Sweden had changed me a lot as well. Something happened near the end of my first year though. Perhaps I finally found my place in my new country and started making more friends. As I had less and less free time, I couldn’t go to Estonia as often as before. By then we had decided that my girlfriend would come to live with me in Sweden. From then my home was there – no more hanging on.

It is not like I could never go back to Estonia – the Ivo who left in 2011 can’t but I sure can… Or perhaps a future Ivo. It’s just that I would have to find a new life there because, as everyone who has to leave home will find out, life goes on without you and while it can be a sad though at first, it is the normal way of things. It is something to be embraced not feared. I have learned that it is never sustainable to hold on to the past as it stops you from becoming a new person, better suited to the present. Ivo ca. 2015 is much more adapted to living in Sweden than Ivo ca. 2011.

I know that from a perspective this may be a bit harsh. Even while writing this I keep thinking to myself how many awesome people I still have contact with from my “previous lives.” For each of them though, there are many more I have lost contact with. We meet, we talk, perhaps there is even a sweet feeling from the past but we are really not a part of each others life. Not in that way. It’s no ones fault, it’s just the natural way of things, it’s life. Perhaps future me and future them will someday meet and forge a new friendship, who knows. I do know however that holding onto these things will only cause more negative emotions.

I keep thinking of this today because I do feel that a new change may soon be upon me. I have been doing my PhD for over 3 years now and at one point, it will come to an end. Hopefully. After that – who knows. I was very sure I will want to stay and do a PhD in Tartu after my Master’s degree. That turned out well. Maybe I’ll become a baker. Or a woodworker. In any way, I must be able to live a new life. Perhaps I’ll be more fit in that life too! I guess present Ivo must do a bit for that as well 🙂

In lieu of a proper conclusion I will leave you with one of my favorite comic strips of all time from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Click on the image below to get to the full strip – trust me – it is worth it.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner.
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner.