The Bonds That Tie

July 6, 2011 | 6 comments
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Sometime while I was in the MTC, I started a list of things that were cool and that I didn’t want my mission to make me forget or turn my back on. I wrote things down on a loose sheet of paper that I kept, folded, in my journal. I’d love to see it now, to look at what 19-year-old me thought 21-year-old me (and, presumably, 35-year-old-me, knowing my self-absorption at the time) should be. Sadly, it fell out of my journal at some point long, long ago. But the list may or may not have included hair- and facial-hair styles, music, and literature. The list was at least a side and a half of the paper, so I’m entirely sure I had constructed a full 360-degree aesthetic for myself.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure I was trying to bind my future self to make sure I didn’t become one of those losers who suddenly just listens to MoTab (or who says, “MoTab”) and wears braided belts with tucked-in polo shirts, or whatever it was I didn’t like when I was 19.

In high school and through the beginning of college, my goal was to become a jazz or rock musician. And today I teach business and tax law classes at law school, after having practiced for a number of years at a white shoe firm in New York. And I couldn’t be happier, although the 19-year-old me would likely be disgusted by the 35-year-old version of me. But I couldn’t be happier with the career I have.

At the same time, my family, baptism, mission, temple endowment, etc., have bound me to the Church. These bonds I haven’t broken, and I don’t regret continuing in Mormonism. But the contrast with my MTC list is interesting to me: is there a qualitative difference between my successful and unsuccessful attempts to create a future me?

To some extent, the answer may be the difference between covenants and non-covenants. I take the idea of covenants very seriously. But covenants can still be broken, often without much more short-term repercussions than deciding that, no, I’m not really budding rock star after all.

I’ve successfully bound my future self in other ways as well: I have a mortgage, for example, and had an auto loan for a while. But those seem somehow different: as long as I make my payments, Chase doesn’t really care if I’m a rock musician or a law professor, a Mormon or a Catholic. That is, unlike both the 19-year-old aesthete and the various-aged covenantor, these obligations, while fixing my future actions, don’t reflect on my identity.

Whatever the reasons, though, it turns out that I am who I am today both because of and in spite of my younger self.

6 Responses to The Bonds That Tie

  1. Marc Bohn on July 6, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Sometimes I’m glad to be rid of my 19-year-old illusions of myself. Other times I desperately would like them back. :)

  2. Dane Laverty on July 6, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    I’d love to see what was on your list. I came up with a similar list shortly after I got married. Holding onto my youthful ideals is important to me. It’s an ongoing struggle, but not one that I’m ready to give up.

  3. Sam Brunson on July 6, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    Dane, if I remember right, the bulk of my list was specific songs/artists that I wanted to make sure I continued to listen to. (“California Dreamin’” was one; I’d be shocked if James Brown, P-Funk, Prince, and Kenny Kirkland weren’t on the list.)

    Otherwise, there was probably a hairstyle (I ended my freshman year at BYU with a mohawk–long story–and spent most of high school with long hair), maybe goatees, beards, or sideburns were mentioned, and I can’t swear that I didn’t include one or more earrings, although I can’t swear that I did, either. (Full disclosure: today I have a beard, my hair’s too long, but I’ll cut it soon, and I’ve never worn an earring.)

    Do you mind my asking what kind of things are on your list of youthful ideals that you want to hold onto?

  4. Alison Moore Smith on July 6, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    So, Sam, you turned into a kind of hippie geek?

    I don’t even like to imagine what my 19-year-old self would think of me. Sitting at the 4th of July parade on Monday, watching the Miss Orem float (“mom’s float” as the kids call it), I looked at the gowned girls like aliens. That was me at 19, but I was a totally different person (and I’m not just talking about my dress size.

    I can tell you exactly which parts of my life would shock my 19-year-old self, which would disgust her, and a few that she might think were cool — or at least OK. Mostly, I’m surprised at how happy I am now with things that I had ZERO interest in back then. Like six kids, for example.

  5. Sam Brunson on July 7, 2011 at 7:53 am

    So, Sam, you turned into a kind of hippie geek?

    That’s probably a good description: a hippie who reads business press and focuses on the movement of money, and also who bathes on a regular basis and has a condo and a (hybrid) car.

    My political leanings roughly approximate my 19-year-old self, only with more experience and more nuance. In fact, saying I would “disgust” my younger self is probably overstatement–I think, more likely, that my current life would be largely unrecognizable to my younger self. But that seems to me, at least partly, to be a result of specialization. I didn’t know until well into law school that there was such thing as a tax lawyer–we don’t tend to be the subject of lawyer movies and TV shows (The Firm excepted, kind of, of course).

  6. Alison Moore Smith on July 7, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    I’m glad to hear you bathe. Good news all around. :)