The last time I was home, my parents had me finally clean out my childhood bedroom. Until then my room had served as a storage space mixed with a carefully preserved shrine to my high school self. I started with my beloved bookshelf, still cluttered with yellowed young adult paperbacks — Sideways Stories from Wayside School, The BabySitters Club — and slowly moved counter-clockwise around my room. Between layers of Limited Too clothes and old baseball cards of myself, I came across personal relics from what felt like a bygone era — crumpled notes from ex-boyfriends, blue participation ribbons, prom corsages dried and pressed neatly between the pages of a chunky geometry book. Each item was like a fossil, dating back to a particular moment, buried deep beneath more recent layers, more recent fossils. My room was a physical representation of what I used to do, the things I once found to be important and who I used to be.
It’s been almost four full years since I graduated high school. Shuffling through those mementos, I felt like I was going through the room of a completely different person, studying the remains of a completely different species. The memories and feelings attached to every piece of paper or article of clothing served as reminders of just how much my perspective has changed.
In every single class I’ve had this semester, evolution has been a particular topic of interest. Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection has followed me from Goldwin Smith to Warren, from English to Bio and back again. The archeological dig in my bedroom coupled with studying for my recent Evolutionary Biology prelim got me thinking — these mementos, these fossils trace the evolution of, well, myself. What if, as I grew up, I learned to hold onto the things that represented my strengths, my successes, my happiness rather than the “traits” that left me less adaptively fit?
In seventh grade, I represented my middle school in the county spelling bee. After incorrectly spelling “rehearsal” R-E-H-E-A-R-S-U (DING!) I walked off stage sobbing and my mom took me to get ice cream. The school-wide trophy still sat proudly on my desk, representative of my achievement, subsequent failure and how much both meant to me at the time. Behind the trophy sits an old pair of earrings, one of them missing a back; a gift from someone who doesn’t mean the same thing to me anymore. I keep the earrings because they’re kind of cute, but they’ve just about lost all sentimentality.
As a senior, it’s both remarkable and weird to think about how much I’ve changed, how many fossils I’ve left, how many eras I’ve lived through. I haven’t just grown up, I’ve evolved.
Throughout the years, we keep moving forward, growing, evolving and shaping better versions of ourselves. Things we thought were significant seem kind of silly. Things we cried over then we wouldn’t bat an eye at now — we have more important things to think about. Just as the dreams and priorities develop, so too do the fears and the worries. As harrowing as it seems, it’s what separates us from being stagnant, stuck with the same problems and same mindset we had four years ago. We trade old friends for new ones, more conscious of who we want to surround ourselves with: the people who bring out the best in us, around whom we like ourselves more. But it’s not just about collecting new things or people, it’s about the change in our attitudes and priorities; it’s about becoming someone who you actually like.
Self-evolution isn’t necessarily just a more highbrow way of saying self-help or self-improvement; it’s a process by which we, as individuals, naturally pass things we like about our current selves onto our future selves. Going through our fossils helps us create a selective memory by physically picking what to hold onto and what to leave behind. I hold onto the leftover euros that represent the months I spent outside of my comfort zone; I leave behind the piles of graded tests I used to need to boost my confidence. I hold onto the old typewriter that I promised to one day write a book with; I leave behind the stuffed animals of relationships past. I guess it’s kind of common sense to propose that you’ll hold onto the things that remind you of strength and happiness, but on a deeper level, it’s hard to consciously recognize the nascent characteristics you have now that you’ll be proud to fully embody later on in life. While you may never realize how much growing you still need to do until you’ve done it, it always feels good to look back and see how far you’ve come.
In retrospect, how much have I really evolved? I still use ice cream as a self-soother, I still keep scrapbooks full of things that I think are important, that mean something to me, even though there’s always a chance that somewhere down the road they won’t. But just as you let some traits, people and things go, you keep some around. We might not know exactly which ones now, but if it’s truly a natural kind of selection, we’ll just have to trust our own evolution and let the triumphs and disappointments keep on coming.