Despite being no stranger to awkward and embarrassing childhood photos in my time, last Thursday, to my surprise, another embarrassing photo arrived on my phone from an unsuspecting source.

A text message had come on Thursday from a former college classmate of mine — someone who I don’t believe I’ve spoken with in perhaps all of the twelve years that have passed since we graduated together.

And yet, there it was, suddenly staring back at me…

A photo of him, me, and several classmates attending a presidential campaign rally somewhere in New Hampshire for then-president George W. Bush, about a month or so into our freshman year of college:

(That’s me, on the far right — no pun intended.)

The irony was certainly not lost upon me, sixteen years to the day later, as I sat in my home office in Rhode Island.

Just two days prior, I had written an essay for you about my beliefs on power, those who wield it in our country today, and how those who demonstrate irresponsibility with theirs are, so I believe, owed no more right to it than they have been already granted.

While I am, and very much do believe in, encouraging the vote of all Americans no matter their affiliation or political beliefs, I am also very committed to actively campaigning against the current president today who, of course, now represents the same party that former-president Bush once did.

In his text message, my former classmate added that “things” had certainly “changed a lot” in the 16 years that have passed; I replied saying that I hadn’t “associated with that side of the aisle in quite a long time,” but that he was “right that a lot has changed, indeed.”

To put it mildly.

I was looking at a picture of my younger self at a political campaign rally that, at its equivalent in 2020, I could not be physically dragged or carried into attending unless rendered unconscious.

As We Change, Our Stories Change

While a slight wave of embarrassment did wash over me when I saw the picture last Thursday, the truth is, dear friend, that I’m not truly embarrassed or ashamed by it.

(Except for those cargo shorts — I am very, very sorry about those.)

Despite how much my political affiliations, personal beliefs, overall outlook, and spiritual philosophy have changed since I was 18 years old, I am incredibly grateful for little reminders like these of who I once was when I was young.

Sure, for a few particular reasons, I still carry some shame and regret for the ignorance that I displayed back then.

And yet? I love looking back and witnessing just how much I’ve changed ever since.

I am grateful for artifacts like pictures that capture moments in time and, like a trail of personal growth breadcrumbs, chart the course of an inward journey from “then” to “now.”

I find great solace and comfort in recalling the deep evolution of Self that I have experienced.

I feel enormously grateful, affirmed, and indeed privileged to be able to look back on who I once was and feel like I am now unrecognizable in comparison.

Because today, I can say that I have never felt more myself.

Why I appreciate seeing such stark changes in myself is not because I think I’m now “so much more evolved” in any sort of egotistical way — or, that I’m now politically “better than” or “more right” than someone who today might hold views similar to those I once had.

The truth is that I have never felt more whole as a person.

Today, thanks in no small part to the deep inner work, continual self-reflection, and ongoing journey into a self-storied life, I feel the most “myself” than I ever have before. In work, relationship, and daily life, I feel more embodied and less dissonant; more present and less yearning; more secure and less scarce, than in any phase of my life.

(Especially in comparison to when I was 18. Sheesh!)

My ego, of course, would love nothing more than to feel confronted by the changes, shifts, and differences.

Part of the journey of continual personal growth and deepening into your truth is shedding who you once were; it is admitting to wrongs; letting old beliefs and ideologies fall by the wayside; renouncing paths and identities that no longer honor the truth of who you are finding yourself to be.

The ego doesn’t care for change. It just wants to be right.

Our egos would prefer to win at all costs; to admit no wrong, and no fault.

Our egos want to reside in self-righteousness finger-wagging; to don a self-anointed crown of Holier-Than-Thou.

…even if the finger is being wagged at who we once were.

But when you choose to change — an outlook, an identity, or how you know yourself — you must wash yourself of your ego and its desire to be self-righteous.

To change is, in many ways, to renounce what was — and to forgive what and who you were — for the promise of a better, more authentic, or more whole way of being.

Commit to Ego, or to Soul

Today, as I look back on this photo of my younger self, I’m not giving myself credit, kudos, or congratulations — for the change in political leanings, or even for the personal growth for which I am proud and grateful.

Doing so would, I think, affirm the very opposite of the message I intend to share.

What I do hope is to encourage you, as I try to encourage myself, to carry your True Self — all of your incarnations, all of your “operating system” versions, all shrines to the memories of who you once were — with deep compassion, relentless understanding, and undying love.

Because, despite our worldly mistakes, youthful ignorance, imperfections and learning curves, there is still and always an untouchable and perfect inner essence or soul within you.

You can mess up, and you will.

You can be wrong, and change your mind, and renounce what you thought you knew, and not be “less than” for changing

There is a divine light within you and it wishes for nothing more than to be made manifest — on this physical plane that we call “the real world,” and in this lifetime.

You were not born to shrink before it, but to expand into and through it.

No matter how much we grow or change — and even how unrecognizable some parts of us may eventually become — we should all be able to look back on our younger selves and former incarnations, and bow in humble gratitude for who we once were.

Especially if it means that we have become more and more of our whole and true selves, since.

Just take a look at that 16-year-old picture that arrived on my phone last Thursday, dear friend:

With how far I’ve come, I can say that I will never wear cargo shorts like those, ever again.

Yours in the journey of becoming more of our true selves — and, in ever-evolving pant-wear,