I was going through some old boxes a while back and found a self-portrait I did when I was five. It depicts a little boy with hair tossed to the side, big coke bottle glasses and a shy smile. He’s wearing a striped shirt.
I set the drawing aside and after a few days passed, I couldn't bring myself to throw it away. The labored markings that spelled my name and the slight smile penciled on my face – they were drawn by a kid who felt safe in the world; he was happy with himself and wide awake to the life unfolding in front of him. I put that portrait on the nightstand next to my bed. Every morning I see it and think about the person he became.
What would he think of me now?
I’ve spent the last three decades trying to collect experiences, skills and relationships hoping someday I’d stumble across something – a tool or mindset – I could put into practice to live right. That’s a lot of pressure isn’t it? Whether you’re five or thirty it’s daunting to push through each day hoping you’ll discover the thing that finally helps you make sense of your life.
I can’t help but believe we’re better off spending our energy doing the work of recovering who we are instead of discovering who we think we should be. Reagan as a young artist already had everything he needed to love and be loved, to build relationships, to work hard, to belong, to create.
And he still does as 30 comes into focus.
Our real calling then is not to mark the passage of time with a wish we’ll morph into who we’re supposed to be, but to rest in the quiet knowing of who we already are. Who we’ve always been.
If I could invite five-year-old Reagan to my 30th birthday party, I would. When he showed up, I’d give him a Dr. Pepper and tell him about all the new Batman movies. I’d tell him the things that make him come alive right now are the things he needs to hold onto. I’d tell him to believe in magic no matter what anyone says. I’d tell him to always be the person who loves and feels deeply. I’d tell him he belongs. I’d tell him he’s OK just the way he is. I’d tell him it’s easy to forget sometimes, but every moment of life is beautiful.
I’d tell him to keep drawing.
And I bet he’d look at me with big eyes and a slanted smile and whisper – “I know.”