When I was young I was anxious in new situations, around new people. I lacked self-confidence and would always defer to authority whether that was parents, teachers – in fact pretty much anybody older, bigger, louder or more forceful. Now I am older I feel as if that nervous boy is still inside, looking out through my eyes. I have never lost that boy. In a way I am still him – my younger self – just in a bigger, older body.
It still surprises me when I get treated as a figure of influence or authority. After all, I’m still the same person I’ve always been – a quiet, mostly harmless guy who just wants to get on with things without bothering anybody and without being bothered in turn. That kind of attention – being put into any kind of leadership role – I usually find nerve-wracking. The exception is when the role is that of a technical authority on one of my special interest subjects – in that situation I am confident because I know my subject in depth (and I know the limits of my knowledge).
At times I feel detached from myself – as if I’m wearing my body like a mask, hiding inside and just peering out through the eyes. I worry about being found out. What if somebody sees me lurking in here and drags me out of my hiding place – exposes me? Exposes the fact that really I’m still just this little kid playing at being grown up? Will I be punished? And all the time there’s this undercurrent of excitement that I’m getting away with it.
I don’t see my inner child as either a good or bad thing – it’s an inseparable part of who I am. It’s the part of me that can jump up and down in excitement, hands flapping, while the outside, visible part of me remains impassive. It’s the part of me that can go into meltdown – screaming, thrashing about – while the outside shuts down. It’s the part of me that has changed the least over the years while I have learned to hide certain behaviours from the world at large to better fit in.
I’ve never lost who I used to be – I am an aggregation of self from past to present, the accretion of layers of age and experience like those Russian dolls, fitting one inside the other. And, while what lies inside appears filtered by those surrounding layers, it remains the same at heart. Here and now I am this 37 year old – nothing can change that – but I can also travel backwards in my mind and see things through the eyes of my younger, more naive self. I can still feel the same childish wonder when I experience something new and exciting. I still feel the same innocent pleasure when simply told that I’ve done well. That makes it all worthwhile for me – it’s all I need.