Breathe Issue 28

Finding yourself. What images do those two words conjure up? Heading off on a post-college gap year with friends, taking a sabbatical mid-career and spending it at home with close family, buying a one-way ticket and embarking on a solo global adventure? For many, of course, extended trips with the sole purpose of self-reflection are pie in the sky for those with financial commitments and family responsibilities. And like most things in life voyages of self-discovery come with no guarantees. Who says a year in Thailand (or Provence for that matter) will finally reveal the real deal, the real You?

Desires and motivations are in a constant state of flux. The self-knowledge for which a person might have yearned aged 18 is likely to have shifted by the time they’ve reached 30. Think of all the experiences that can happen in 12 years – births, deaths, relationships, jobs – and how they affect and inform self-awareness, beliefs and behaviour.

With this in mind, it’s also easier to see why, viewed from a distance, one’s teenage self can sometimes seem almost unrecognisable regardless of how perceptive and confident they seemed at the time about who they were and what they wanted to achieve.

Perhaps finding yourself to some extent involves keeping an uncritical eye on subtle changes in personal preferences and habits, being self-compassionate and paying attention to the people, places and natural wonders that bring joy and laughter into everyday life.

An ongoing, life-long process, it’s unlikely to deliver a sudden realisation that a multicoloured cloak of exhibitionism needs to be shaken off and replaced with a happy-to-be-in-the-background taupe alternative (or vice versa). But it can be done anywhere – including voyages of self-discovery à la Thelma & Louise, Shirley Valentine or About Schmidt – and at any age from 18 to 80. It could start now.

Breathe 28