For my thirteenth birthday, I received a Canon AE-1 camera. And while I’ve long-since moved on to a digital SLR, I still maintain my adolescent love for photography (and my daughter is still enjoying using that dependable AE-1 to take “artsy” film photos).
What do I enjoy so much about photography?
• I like composing images through my view finder.
• I like waiting for the perfect light.
• I like capturing people’s personalities on film.
• I like sorting through and editing digital photos (although I still have a lot to learn on the editing end of things).
• I like sharing and printing photos.
• I like putting together calendars, albums, and slide shows.
• I like giving photo gifts.
• I like reminiscing while looking through old photos, even if I do get emotional.
• I like getting photos enlarged and framed and have pretty much over-run our home with them.
• I like taking action shots at summer camp, especially out on the lake. I’ve even had a few of my images grace the cover of Camping Magazine!
Back when I was in middle school, I took a weekend photography class in Idaho. I took a series of nature images that I had framed and gave to my parents. Those photos are still on the wall in their home.
That Canon camera took up a lot of my time and led to many positive things, not least among them was hundreds (not thousands, because I was much more selective about my clicking in the pre-digital era) of images of my high school and college friends. I have shelves full of photo albums from the 80s and 90s.
I took a variety of photography courses in my teens, including two years in high school and one semester in college as I learned my way around a dark room.
I loved everything about photography back then, and I still do now. I definitely get lost in a state of “flow” while taking, sorting, and creating with my photos. That heightened interest, and my ability to spend hours lost in photography, provides a clue to part of the “authentic” me.
Beyond photography, what other clues can I get by reflecting back on my thirteen-year-old self?
- I was a voracious reader.
- I started writing in my first journal around age ten and found comfort and direction through writing.
- I enjoyed going to movies, especially musicals like Grease, with my friends.
- I liked anything to do with lakes and the ocean – boating, sailing, swimming, boogie boarding, and water skiing.
- I liked to spend time with my friends, and I remember having sleepovers just about every weekend. I spent a lot of time on that good old landline organizing social events.
- I really liked to sew; the whole process of picking out a pattern and fabric and then creating a piece of clothing was really rewarding. In middle school, I took a weekly sewing class and often went on a weekend sewing binge to create a new skirt or shirt. I made my entire family matching flannel jammies for Christmas one year.
- I did my first distance race when I was 13 and felt great that I could keep a steady pace for so long. I was hooked on a sport that (unlike the ball sports that I could never quite master) I was actually pretty good at – distance running.
- I liked to take baths, often with my book, and I would refill the hot water several times.
- I loved just about everything about school – getting new school books and supplies, organizing my homework assignments in my planner, reading, doing math problems, writing essays, doing group projects, and signing up for new classes.
Why I am I telling you all of these minutiae about my adolescent self?
I am hoping that my recollections have spurred you to start thinking about what you loved back when you were around 12 or 13. The things you liked back then hold important clues to your authentic self and, in turn, some possible happiness hacks for the current you.
Many of us, myself included, stopped doing some (or all) of the things that brought us into that state of flow that is so vital to well-being. As adults, we get caught up in the busy-ness and distraction of life and find we don’t have time for those seemingly frivolous things we used to enjoy.
But the further away we get from doing the things that bring us into that blissful state of flow, the more harm we do to our well-being. Feeling not so great, we often turn to other, less healthy things to fill our limited down time – scrolling mindlessly through social media, binging on TV shows, having a few glasses of wine, and other “relaxing” adult activities come to mind as normal (and sometimes quite enjoyable) adult escapes.
But what happens when we go back to some of our first “loves,” those things we liked as adolescents? How do they make us feel now?
I’ve done a two-year experiment. I’m the only participant, so it’s an extremely small sample size, but here’s what I’ve found.
I had SO much fun taking senior pictures of my daughter Charlotte and her friend Emma. And, while it’s harder to find time to take pictures during my busy summer, getting my camera out every few months and taking some pictures still feels great.
I’ve taken several online classes, listened to webinars and TED talks, and attended workshops and conferences. I still love being “in school” as much as I used to. I take notes, do research, and pass along ideas to all of you through my blog posts, speaking events, podcast, and Facebook Live videos.
Recently, I started using my big master bathtub. I had not used it since we moved into this house nine years ago. (Don’t worry. I’ve been showering instead.) Since remembering how much I love taking baths, I’ve started taking at least a few a week – sometimes even with a candle, music, lavender Epsom salt, and a magazine or book to read!
I have found – true to what the research says – that I still like doing most of the things I liked back when I was 13, and I still can get into that blissful “flow” state while doing them.
What did you love to do when you were thirteen?
What can you start doing again now?
Being our authentic self goes a lot deeper, of course, than just spending time on our hobbies and interests. It also means living a life that is in congruence with our values and spending time with people who, as Darcy Bartlett describes well in her article 5 Questions to Find Your Authentic Self, “make us feel good and accept us for who we really are. When we are with people who do not judge us but accept us, then we are able to express our authentic self.”
In What Does it Mean to Be Your Authentic Self?, Judith Johnson shares a profound truth: “The problem is that the more we look outside of ourselves to create a sense of self, the farther off track we go.”
In his 2015 essay How to Discover Your “Authentic” Self and Live the Life You Really Want, Thorin Klosowski says, “We tend to stifle our authentic selves to fit in without even realizing it. And doing so suppresses our creativity, ingenuity, and self-awareness.”
These are such important qualities that we – and our kids – need in order to thrive. With so much of young people’s time spent being distracted and focusing on looking only outside of themselves to create their sense of self, they – like us – can easily get off their own authentic track. Or maybe, even worse, never even having the opportunity to find it.
Think about and reflect on the events, values, and experiences that have shaped who you are today. Not only could it help you feel happier, it will also set an important example for a generation who needs to see adults modeling authentic living.
From the website Emotional Competency:
Your authentic self is the unique combination of all your qualities including your skills, abilities, interests, talents, limits, insights, experiences, memories, beliefs, purpose, and wisdom. It is the expression of your core values through all your quirks and your strengths. Our authentic nature may best be revealed by how we enjoy playing—by what it is we most enjoy doing simply for our own pleasure—at any age. Increase the congruence between what you do, and your goals, beliefs, and values. Pay attention to how you spend your time. Do the activities you spend your time on advance your most important goals? Do your goals reflect your values? Do your values reflect your authentic self? Reappraise your values, beliefs, goals, and actions to improve the congruence.
Watch my Facebook Live Video on this topic: