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Making Sense of Who We Are in a Nonsensical, Non-complacent World

I love the recognition that humans are never complacent creatures, that we embody different versions of ourselves during different times of our lives. This concept is as equally exciting as it is terrifying – our existence is ever changing in an unbelievably nonsensical world.

The fluidity of our existence, I think, is part of life’s beauty, part of its unknown. The fluidity is part of a greater, much scarier version of ourselves, which we have yet to meet. 

Lack of complacency can create a plethora of different emotions. When we start to experience change more drastically, say, around the beginning of our teenage years, we can grow uncomfortable, awkward, or feel out-of-place. Sort of like when you’re still figuring out who you are (but personally, I think we’re always doing that). Or when we learn to love a part of ourselves, we grow and learn for the better. Perhaps we can appreciate the non-complacency that this life brings.

Hoping for Perfection

From what I’ve observed in myself and the people around me, it really is quite easy to imagine a perfected version of someone, something, and even ourselves.

It’s like when I look forward to something with my entire being, I think of and imagine the best possible outcome. It’s human nature to hope for perfection. And when that doesn’t happen it can be disappointing, even damaging, when life doesn’t turn out picture-perfect.

But the most apparent aspect of our lives, is that we are neither perfect nor complacent. Both of these things go hand in hand. For me, this feels like the inevitable changes that we all experience can go one of two ways. We can be self-destructive, and ruin our chances to better ourselves. Or we can work relentlessly to improve ourselves for our own good, and so we may contribute to a better world.

Piecing together this incredibly complex thing we call life, is more than difficult.

I try to make sense of it by breaking it down to a series of phases, or versions, of ourselves. Every version different from the last, and learning for the next. It isn’t always so black and white, but sometimes I have a better way of making sense of things when I can break my life down like this.

But then I’m faced with the task of considering whether or not to break said versions of myself down to the years, months, or days. What’s my timeline? How often do I change, how drastically? Do I break it down to elementary as one, middle as another, high school as my most recent, gearing up for college as the next in just a few weeks? What does that make me now? Who am I? Am I having an identity crisis? It should be noted, the hard part about making sense of your life, is that there is literally no easy way to do it. (And you will go through an identity crisis while doing so).

To try and answer my own questions, first off, I’ve learned that I am changing every waking moment. Whether you consider this change to be biological, that I am slowly evolving until I am not. Or more conceptual, that I am using every experience and interaction I have to change who I am, both consciously and unconsciously. Sometimes, we’re changing without even realizing it. Other times, we’re changing right in front of our very own eyes, whether we want to or not.

The reason I bring about all this “lack of complacency” talk, is because truthfully, I’ve been having a very hard time making sense of who I am.

For some context, I am currently in the middle of packing up the last 18 and a half years of my life in preparation to move 800 miles away from the only town I’ve ever lived in. (And did I mention, it’s happening during a global pandemic? Yeah… that too).

Don’t get me wrong, it will be great. But just as my fluid existence is equally terrifying and exciting, so too is this very great-big move. I’m starting to question if the person I’ve been all these years is true to who I am. Maybe I was that way for the sake of others, for the sake of making it through high school in one piece, for the sake of trying so desperately to please my parents. But now that I don’t feel the need to do any of those things, I’m wondering who I really am, who I could be. Who the heck is 800-miles-from-home Madisyn?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m trying to have some faith in my sense of self. It’s just that now, with all this change coming about, makes me wonder if I want to continue to appear the way that I do in this moment. And if I decide I don’t, I’m unsure if I can consciously change that appearance for the better.

So, yeah, I’m having an identity crisis or something like that. And boxing up my childhood and packing away nostalgia doesn’t help with the crisis. I’ll admit, I’ve let this uncertainty consume me, I’ve let it scare me and control me. I know it seems arbitrary, really. I feel dumb talking about it because I’m worried it doesn’t make sense outside of my own head. But the fact that it has paralyzed me for some time now, makes me feel like it’s worth at least trying to make sense of.

Holding on to What is Real

So, I’ll do what I always do, and I’ll state what is certain. This might seem weird, but when the inside of my head doesn’t connect with the outside world, it’s the best way to ground myself, to hold on to what is real. So, here’s what I know:

My name is Madisyn Gentry, I’m 18 years old.

I’ve just graduated high school and will begin college in the middle of a global pandemic.

I am passionate about mental health awareness, the Black Lives Matter movement, the climate crisis, and LGBTQ+ rights.

Education is very important to me: I am always learning, teaching myself and listening to others.

My favorite color is green.

I have a lot of clothes I need to pack up.

I love coffee and music.

This world defies all logic. I cannot change this.

Sometimes writing feels like the most difficult task in the world. Writing and I have a love-hate relationship.

Okay, so that’s what I’ve got. Right now, those are some of the only certain and consistent things in my life. It might feel useless, but saying even the most mundane facts about myself, my life, or my situation, can ground me and my anxieties. Focusing on what is real and what is certain is a great way to take my mind off all the illogical things I can’t wrap my head around.

So, I guess that’s step one to “101 ways to make sense of yourself in a nonsensical world.” Problem is, I have yet to figure out the next 100 steps.

But I guess that’s just something else that contributes to the all-encompassing fears and excitements this life has to offer. Sometimes all we really can do is take things one day at a time, make choices with all the knowledge we have up to that point, and learn as we go. There is something so wonderfully enticing about knowing that as the days go on I will learn new things. But there is also something so terribly off-putting about not knowing what it is I do not know. When this feeling occurs, consider reverting back to step one.

When step one doesn’t work, that’s when the real trouble begins. Mostly because I have no idea what step two is. I suppose I’ll let you know if I ever do, but there’s no promises in this life, so I might be chasing that answer for as long as I might live.

That’s what gets me sometimes, is that nothing is promised. Tomorrow isn’t promised, neither is love or health or happiness or success. I could do everything right and still, there is no promise of anything.

I could wash my hands, wear a mask, and isolate for weeks, and somehow still contract COVID-19. In fact, that’s feeling inevitable. I can stop at red lights and obey all traffic laws and still get in an accident. Taking my vitamins and eating my vegetables doesn’t mean I’m immune to cancer. I can love others and still be hated by some. Even if I work as hard as I possibly can, I can still struggle financially. If I muster up everything I have in me to write down the jumbled chaos in my head, it still might not make sense. (I hope this is making sense).

Focusing our Energy on the Greater Good

Living in a world with more than seven billion people means that 1) it’s hard to be something other than just a number and 2) sometimes the actions of others can influence my fate. This is why I have so much to fear, but also so much work to do. I can complain all I want about my situation, but I am more than grateful for the opportunities I have had, the life that I live. Above all else, I have a loving family, clean water, and a roof over my head. I am in a position to help others, to better the world. I am in the position to alleviate my own internal crisis and focus some of that energy for a greater good. It would be senseless not to contribute positively as it may bring some meaning to this ludicrous life.

There is a Judaism concept known as Tikkun Olam. It should be noted that I am not Jewish, in fact, I’m not sure what I am. All that I do know is I appreciate the beauty religion brings to humanity. I admire those who can find peace within it. So, I try to learn about new religions frequently. I try to understand their values and their perspectives. In some way, I try to apply it to my life and who I am. I don’t follow one definitive religion because I have a very hard time understanding how only one could be real, only one religion could be true. How can I decide which one is THE one, when there’s some out there I know nothing of? I can’t make a decision without all the information, nor do I want to. Not about this.

All I do know is that I recognize the Universe as a higher power. As Alan Watts says, I “am the Universe experiencing itself.” That’s all the commitment I need.

Tikkun Olam is a concept found in classical rabbinic teachings, the Mishnah. It is most often defined as acts of kindness used to repair the damaged world. Specifically, to help those who are at a disadvantage. In modern-day Jewish groups, this term is used as a means to justify social and political action with the goal of achieving social justice. When I think of this, using the good I have within me to help those around me, I feel purposeful, some of my identity crisis fades. At the end of the day, I am one in seven billion. This makes me both incredibly special and incredibly meaningless in the grand scheme of things. So, basically, nothing and everything matters simultaneously.

All the pressure seems to fade when I begin to care more about helping others, rather than impressing those who hardly notice me. Life is a series of very complicated moments, some of which are unavoidable. But sometimes, as humans, we complicate things that don’t need to be so complex. Yes, life is complicated, but it doesn’t always have to be. This is something I’m working on: embracing simplicity, not overthinking, and redefining what it means to be my own person.

Some days, I over complicate so much, that I begin to wonder if I’m the cause of my own identity crisis. Like, maybe it doesn’t have to be that deep. Maybe I can just exist wholeheartedly, helping and loving others, and that will be enough. Maybe that’s everything I am.

But as I learn and grow, and experience new people and places, I will change and I will face new parts of me that others will need to adjust to, as I will do the same with them. The important part about coming to terms with my unavoidable change, is that others will face change too.

Our growth is an option, but our change is inevitable. It is up to us to use the change for better or for worse.

So, maybe, when we lose lovers and friends, it’s because they can’t quite grasp a new version of us, or we can’t for them. As people are non-complacent, so are our relationships. What might work well for two people might not continue to work in the next phases of their lives. And that may be days down the road or even years. It all just depends on the sequence of our lives, the surrounding world, and what we choose to do with it all. 

People come and go, which is hard, and often heartbreaking, but it’s the end of something old and the start of something new — every single time. 

Some versions of me will mesh well with some, clash with others. 

Some versions of me will love my past selves, and some versions will hate them. 

My future versions will always critique my past ones. But all of my past selves haven’t learned or experienced as much as my future selves. As long as I’m growing, I should thank my past selves. I look at old pictures of myself, and sometimes I can even recognize that person. But despite what I see and feel, I try to remind myself that I was pulling from the world around me, doing everything I could with the experiences I had at that very moment, in order to be who I was. And when I’m still learning, some versions of who I am will be worse than others. 

My freshman self is hated by my senior self, as I’m sure my 40 year old self will have much to say about my college years. As long as I’m calling myself out as I go, I’m growing. Constantly self-checking is important. 

My versions are always changing, sometimes so slightly I don’t notice, sometimes so heavy that I feel alienated from my own sense of self. Sometimes so unrecognizable that I spiral through an endless identity crisis.

Believing that life is composed of a series of versions of ourselves can potentially simplify an infinite concept down to manageable, comprehensible moments.

The idea of change within ourselves and within those around us can be daunting and scary and unwanted. But so is the idea of remaining complacent. 

The concept of our existence having a sense of fluidity is scary for our sense of security, but enticing for the parts of us which crave adventure. 

Sometimes our versions or phases can be purposefully influenced. This could look like going to therapy and actively implementing life-altering habits and coping mechanisms, or choosing a specific career path or university to attend. The choices we make absolutely influence our future selves in every way. Sometimes in ways we don’t realize or expect.

But sometimes, our versions feel far out of our own control, too. Experiencing an insecure sense of self is what helps us grow, break boundaries, and push ourselves out of our comfort zones. At least that’s what I’m telling myself. 

But whatever really happens, I can only hope my next phase is better than the last, because growth, in any form, is beautiful, and so important. 

But who knows? Maybe my changing identity is bullshit that I tell myself to make me feel better, to give my life some purpose. My overwhelming opinion about our changing versions and new phases could be a coping mechanism. Maybe I just need to grow up and get on with my life.

All I know for sure is that I am the Universe experiencing itself. So helping others, and loving others is almost like working on myself and loving myself. That is, if we look at those around us, and ourselves, as part of the Universe then we are collective. I like that idea, quite a lot, actually. I can only hope it will get me through this identity crisis.

And maybe, one day, I’ll figure out the last 100 steps to my 101 step process to making sense of ourselves in a nonsensical world, but maybe not. Maybe we’re not meant to know every part of ourselves.

The universe is vast and beautiful and far beyond anything I could ever imagine. And all of that is somehow within me.

I hate to disappoint, but there really is no easy way to make sense of ourselves in such a nonsensical world.

I think I’ll just cling to the beauty of the unknown as best I can.

Madisyn Gentry

Madisyn Gentry was born and raised in Greeley, CO. Growing up in colorful Colorado has been the perfect place for her to explore, spend time reading under big trees, and enjoy the outdoor sun. She is currently a senior in high school, set to graduate in May 2020. Gentry is a very outspoken individual. She leads her life in kindness and uses her voice, both out loud and in writing. She is a climate activist, she advocates for equal rights for all, and works relentlessly to empower the ones around her. She will be attending the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO in fall 2020 to study journalism. She currently writes for her local newspaper, The Greeley Tribune. Informing her community and beyond is a passion she has been chasing for quite some time now. Gentry has four younger siblings, all of whom she adores more than life itself. Each one of them serves as a reminder to her that family is one of the most important pieces of our journey here on earth. Through her writing, Gentry hopes to touch the lives of her community, and someday, the world.

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