Exposure

Every new experience we have is a camera with a light attached to it.

That camera allows us to see a side of ourselves—an ultra-specific angle, a super-distinct composition—that we may never have seen before. That we may not have even suspected existed.

The light on the camera can expose new folds in our skin, new wrinkles, new shadows cast by sinew and bone, new imperfections: moles and warts and discolorations. Things we might come to appreciate and own, and things we may, initially at least, feel self-conscious about and worry over.

The more experiences we have and the more varied those experiences, the more accurate our three-dimensional perception of ourselves.

As we see more, do more, try more things, we expose more of ourselves to these lights, these cameras, and we’re able to perceive ourselves in high-relief and low-relief, high-contrast and low-contrast, from above and below, up the nose, but also from a dramatic, face-flattering, just-above-the-brow-and-a-little-to-the-left point-of-view.

The experiences we have frame us up in different ways because they force us to unearth and expose different portions of our personalities.

The version of me that succeeded professionally in Los Angeles, running a business, was different from the version of me who has been able to build sustainable, enjoyable lifestyles in countries and cultures around the world.

The skills involved, the requisite traits, vary greatly between those two lifestyle paths. And a great deal of education, of learning and iteration, was required to make both work.

Just as important as those lessons, though, was allowing myself to change my stance, to adjust my pose, so that different facets were exposed—previously unknown portions of my character, my capabilities, and heretofore unrecognized flaws and strengths—all brought to the surface. Exposed by the light, captured by the camera.

It was the same person living both of these lives, of course, but new attributes were pulled out of me—new facial expressions and postures and follicles and freckles—by the dramatic repositioning of those cameras, those lights. That which was formerly cast in shadow was lit up like Yankee Stadium. That which was formerly center stage, in the spotlight, was relegated to the background.

That said, it’s possible to try new things, to put yourself in novel environments, try new things, meet new people, and to leave those test-shoots on the cutting room floor.

It’s possible to never review the footage, to fail—through inattention or embarrassment or ignorance—to incorporate what you learn about yourself into your holistic perception of “Me.”

It’s also possible to learn actionable things via this approach, to not like what comes to light, and to make adjustments accordingly. To accept what you see as being real, but to decide to change it for whatever reason. To work toward a new reality.

This has happened to me numerous times over the past decade or so: I’ve been dropped into an unfamiliar situation and my response to that situation was not what I’d hoped; it didn’t fit with my philosophy, my perception of who I am, or my sense of who I want to be.

So I made changes to my life, to the way I did things, my habits and heuristics, to ensure the next pass of the camera and light would be more flattering. That it would feel more representative of who I perceive myself to be; of who I am and who want to become.

There’s latent value in exposing ourselves to new things.

It’s valuable, for instance, to experience more so that you have a better understanding of your priorities, your wants and needs, your ideals—whether that means your favorite foods and music or your optimal profession and environment.

But the secondary benefit is what exposure to new things reveals about us through the lens of our responses to those novel things.

You never truly know how you’ll cope with success until you experience it, just as you never truly know how you’ll cope with failure until you’ve failed.

It’s possible to have theories about such things, of course, and some of those theories may even be accurate.

But although it’s possible to guess at your complete dimensionality, at your true and your potential stereoscopic selves, there’s nothing like experience to fill in those blanks and to help you better understand who you are and who you might become.

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