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.