How a photo of me — as a six year old — helps me navigate life.
“Who is the lovely little girl?” asked the woman bagging up my groceries. “Is that your daughter?”
I followed her gaze down to the open wallet in my hands. There was a picture of a six-year-old, wearing a First Communion veil and a subtle smirk, tucked into one of the clear pockets. I smiled at the girl with the dimples, then looked back up at the woman.
“Yes, it’s my child,” I answered, turning a soft shade of red. Then I gently closed my wallet and picked up my grocery bags to make the journey home … to cook for one.
I wasn’t lying. Not exactly anyway. The girl in the photo above is my child. She’s my always-present inner child. She’s the version of me from 1985, before millions of life experiences, good and bad, molded her into the woman I’ve become today.
It might sound a little strange to have a picture of myself in my wallet. Narcissistic even. But my inclusion of it comes with serious intention.
Five years ago, a mentor of mine encouraged me to slip a childhood photo into my wallet. A deeply spiritual man, he said it would serve as a daily reminder of who I am — who I really am.
I didn’t truly get what he meant at the time, but I respected his wisdom. I had just confessed to him my emotional state, aware that something just felt “off” because I was teetering on the edge of burnout. At the time, however, I figured that this was just part of being an adult. I revolved my life around responsibilities, work and occasional headaches — and scheduling fun only when it didn’t interfere with the responsibilities, work and recovery of said headaches.
I was intrigued by his simple suggestion, however, one he followed himself. I aspired to emulate his calm and wise demeanor, so I thought, “Why not?” It was a novel idea, with just enough mystical quirkiness to make it intriguing, even if it didn’t sound like the cure-all solution for which I’d hoped.
I wanted to know what my childhood photo — next to credit cards, insurance cards, a driver’s license and other IDs of adulthood — might inspire. Would it make me calmer? Wiser? Would she start speaking to me in some secret language?
So I went home and carefully considered which photo to tuck into my wallet. I decided that the image of me at my First Communion, hands in prayer and looking innocent, would be appropriate to inspire … something.
At first, however, it inspired nothing. Nothing but embarrassment.
The first few times I pulled out my wallet to pay for something — at the grocery store, the pharmacy, Bed, Bath & Beyond, all those places we adults shop — I didn’t bother looking at her. I avoided her. I would take out the cash or credit card and immediately close the wallet. I didn’t want to see her and certainly didn’t want anyone else to spot that photo. I was embarrassed. At some point, I hid her behind a rarely used store discount card. I was pushing her, the little girl that lived inside of me, away — literally. But she was still there, inside of that wallet and inside of me.
I don’t recall the exact moment when I finally saw her face again. I must have thrown away that rarely used store discount card, because she re-emerged. I began noticing her as I maneuvered out into the world, whenever I pulled out my wallet.
My embarrassment turned to amusement, and this eventually transformed into in-the-moment introspection and gratitude.
My six-year-old self — the picture of her anyway — became a sort of emotional talisman. I started listening to her. She reminded me of things that I intuitively knew and practiced as a child but had tucked away over the years, when I began taking on the multidimensional roles that come with being a woman and with participating in the world of grown-ups.
She encouraged me to bring those “childlike” qualities back out into the playroom of life as an adult — and that it was OK to do so. In the process, something in me softened, little by little, over time.
I could have never realized it that day in 1985, while posing for this photo, that this image would someday manifest into a near-daily reminder to draw out the wonder, creativity and love I expressed in childhood and color it into my adult life. Each time I open my wallet now, I am reminded of this — of the pure lens I once had on the world, when things weren’t so complicated or stressful or challenging.
The little girl in the photo reminds me that it can be that way today, too. Sometimes I don’t believe her; but most of the time, I acknowledge her wisdom, one that lives deep inside of me.
With a nod of gratitude to my wise friend who passed this idea onto me, I pass it on to all the other adults out there, especially those who feel as though adulthood has begun sucking the fun out of life. Your childhood photo is likely to tap into different qualities and memories that are uniquely meaningful to you, and I hope that they are mostly positive. (Although I can empathize if not all are happy ones; if that’s the case, then perhaps this exercise isn’t meant for you.)
For me, however, this small photo in my wallet, above all, reminds me to interact with the world with the same childlike wonder I had as a kid, before adulthood “necessitated” seriousness and so much complexity.
In a way, I suppose my six-year-old self is speaking to me in a secret language, one to help me lead a happier (and sometimes sillier) life. Perhaps a much-younger version of you — the one that existed before expectations, roles and responsibilities mounted — will help you do the same.
Originally published at medium.com