It is one of those questions. It's a teaser; obvious, sometimes pretentious; amnesiac, solipsistic and navel-gazing but it comes up more than often: Who am I? What am I here to do? It is the question for your late teens and twenties, that perhaps gets forgotten in your thirteen, before biting back with avengance in one's forties and then slowly suffocated in simplicity there on in, unless you're young at heart, and want to relive the tangle.
A quote I often raise is that of my old boss, Ben, who after I took him out to the "cheap and nasty" Sichuan restaurant out the back of our centre said to me, beer in hand: "Oh, you're thirty. That's cool. You know who are then." Baijiu in my glass, his words swirled in my head. I was about to turn 31 at the time. In amongst some professional turmoil. At the time I thought it was an observation to observe. And with time it is something I've often found to be true. (I could launch into several character discussions on others but I'd like to let myself have my moment of navel-gazing here.)
I think back to my twenties - financially and career-wise quite a wasted period - and reflect on the full range of stuff I got into. Between the ages of 21 and 29, I did vegetarianism, self-employment, nudism, tree-planting, taoism, volunteered at a stroke survivor charity, was on the unemployment benefit, had some great different parties, had my first relationship (out of two in my life), picked things out of rubbish, made a short drama and performed it on stage, sustained a belief that I was going to be in a hostage situation that I was going to be a hero in, dyed my hair green and got drunk for the second time in my life (not in that order). This blog started in 2004 following some of that but some of it wasn't there because it had no context. Some can't really even have been published because it just doesn't fit in any commentary but still amuses me to think back on. I actually did pee into 2L bottles that I kept under my computer desk (it was for making garden fertliser). I think it's these thoughts that I cut a little slack to the shiftless youth that I manage.
Many of these things were shaping, but I think the one thing hasn't changed is who I wanted to be. One of the great consolations of ageing it's that I'm pretty close to what I've always wanted to be. Responsible, clear on the things that are important to me, healthy, self-aware, forgiving. But life turns and swirls again. It's on reflection that I would even notice these things in the hurly-burly of life. It always pays to carry a mirror.