On the wall in my yoga studio’s bathroom hangs a photo of Bob Dylan with his words: “All I can do is be me, whoever that is.” I smile every time I see it, feeling reaffirmed that after nearly four decades of life, I’m still figuring “me” out.
It’s ironic that these words that resonate so deeply come from Bob Dylan. Over twenty years ago, I stood in a packed stadium in Chicago listening to him sing. I remember, in the days leading up to the concert, cramming for it like it was an exam. I binged his CDs to try and learn a few words of his songs. Obviously, I wasn’t a huge Bob Dylan fan, but a group of cool kids in my high school were, and they invited me to the concert. Suddenly, I was a loyal listener.
Although it was a fun night in Chicago, I never touched those CDs again. I realized that despite how legendary he is, I was just not a huge Bob Dylan fan. And I was finally okay with the cool kids knowing my true feelings about the matter. I suppose that I’ve usually found the truest parts of who I am by discovering who I am not.
I can think of any number of alter egos with which I’ve cloaked myself as a way to find comfort and community. I don’t fault myself for the various versions of myself that I tried to fit and settle into. I actually look at those versions of me as a tender attempt to protect myself. I see it as a way I tried to belong—in relationship with others, but also in relationship with my self.
Things like Bob Dylan fandom gave me a point of connection with others, but I was also drawn to his music because it helped me feel more oriented to myself. Especially as a teenager, I just wanted to know and understand me so I could feel known and understood by others.
The exploration into who we are at our core can be so overwhelming.
When we exit the womb, nobody tells us that the journey is the point. As newborns, we wouldn’t be able to comprehend it anyway. But I think that, even as adults, most of us have a hard time understanding it still. Who could be expected to know and feel confident in their self right from the get-go? Maybe we have to try on several different selves before we find our truest self.
My daughters—ages three and four—are very committed to updating me on their favorite color each day. “Mommy,” Annie says, unprompted, “today my favorite color is blue.” Evelyn takes this as her cue: “My favorite color today is pink. And rainbow!” She likes to have her bases covered.
I love these updates because I see their own self-discovery taking shape. I love the freedom they feel to change their minds, divert from their normal paths, and feel confident in saying what they like and don’t like. I love watching them try things on in their quest to become the self they were created to be.
What an epic and lifelong journey it is. Thankfully, all we can do is be ourselves. Whoever that is.
Mallory Redmond embraces anomalies—she is an adventure-loving homebody who keeps a clean house yet always makes a mess while eating or brushing her teeth. She loves dry humor, clean sheets, and gathering around the table with friends. Mallory and her husband, Darren, live in Ohio with their beagle, Roger, and their two daughters. You can follow her writing here, where her stories are told with the hope of further uncovering the places of connection in our humanity.