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Going Deep on Identity

Imagine waking up one day to find that you have no memory of your life.

 

No, you're not the guy from Memento (though that would be pretty badass); you’re just a regular person. You know your name, and you remember your spouse who is the love of your life. But other than that...your life is a total blank. You don’t know where you live, where you went to university, or even how old you are. You can’t remember anything about your childhood or your family.

 

 

What makes you who you are?

 

 

The above sounds like the opening scene of a novel, but this is what really happened to a British man named Clive Wearing. At age 46, Clive contracted a serious brain infection which left him with one of the worst cases of amnesia ever recorded. Clive not only can’t recall most of his life prior to his illness (a condition called retrograde amnesia), he also can’t form new memories (a condition called anterograde amnesia).

 

The result: every few minutes, Clive feels as if he is waking up from a coma and experiencing consciousness for the very first time.

 

Reading about Clive got us thinking about how we define ourselves. How malleable are we? If some of our memories were erased or if our lives took a different turn, would we be fundamentally different people? Who are we, really?

 

 

 

Ashley Merrill

Ashley Merrill, founder of Lunya

 

 

In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Joel (played by Jim Carrey) finds out his ex-girlfriend had decided to erase her memories of him. If you could erase some of your memories, would you?

Ashley: Yes — Most of my life experiences, both good and bad, have helped me become the person I am and I'm grateful for them, but there are a few that I could part with and be happier for it.

 

Do you believe negative life experiences are as important as positive life experiences?

Ashley: Yes — I think I am an amalgamation of all things good and bad in my life. I do realize this is in slight contradiction to my above answer.

 

In the 1998 movie Sliding Doors, Gwyneth Paltrow’s character lives through two scenarios. In one scenario, she just barely catches the subway, leading her life in one direction. In the second scenario, she just misses the subway, leading her life in a completely different direction. If, due to a twist of fate, your life had taken a completely different direction at age 20, do you think you’d be a fundamentally different person than you are today?

Ashley: No — About 3 years ago, my mom found all my old report cards. It turns out I was the very same person I am now in many ways. I have a way of looking at the world that has been consistent since I was a child. In many respects, this is the nature versus nurture question and once I had children, I realized just how individualized children are from day one.

 

If time travel were perfected, would you go back and change any part of your life if you could?

Ashley: No — when looking back, I sometimes wish I had handled things differently, but I feel blessed with how things have turned out and wouldn't want to risk a different outcome.

 

 

 

 

Hillary Peterson

Hillary Peterson, founder of True Botanicals

 

 

In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Joel (played by Jim Carrey) finds out his ex-girlfriend had decided to erase her memories of him. If you could erase some of your memories, would you?

Hillary: No, I definitely would not erase them. Over the years, it has become easier for me to embrace and work through painful times because I have learned that my most powerful insights and learnings have come from those experiences.

 

Do you believe negative life experiences are as important as positive life experiences?

Hillary: Yes, 100%. The negative and the positive are so intertwined. For instance, I would not have started True Botanicals if I had not learned from my experience with thyroid cancer that most personal care products are made with toxins.

 

In the 1998 movie Sliding Doors, Gwyneth Paltrow’s character lives through two scenarios. In one scenario, she just barely catches the subway, leading her life in one direction. In the second scenario, she just misses the subway, leading her life in a completely different direction. If, due to a twist of fate, your life had taken a completely different direction at age 20, do you think you’d be a fundamentally different person than you are today?

Hillary: I do not believe that my values would be different and so I feel that, at the core, I would be the same person but I do feel that I could be living a very different life based on circumstance.

 

If time travel were perfected, would you go back and change any part of your life if you could?

Hillary: I have definitely wanted to fix some questionable wardrobe choices and haircuts but, no, I would not interfere with the path that has been my unique journey. I am so grateful for where my life has led me, and in particular for my incredible husband and children. Each challenge has brought a gift so I am grateful for all of it.

 

 

 

 

 

Jessy Dover

Jessy Dover, co-founder of Dagne Dover

 

 

In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Joel (played by Jim Carrey) finds out his ex-girlfriend had decided to erase her memories of him. If you could erase some of your memories, would you?

Jessy: No, I think memories are a big part of what makes you who you are. The tough times build character and increase empathy, and the good times create joyful memories you can call on anytime you want to smile. I would choose to remember everything!

 

Do you believe negative life experiences are as important as positive life experiences?

Jessy: Yes. I think looking at negative memories as learning experiences instead of “negative experiences” is crucial in taking what you need from the situation and applying it to future situations. For example, Melissa, Deepa, and myself had a situation when we first launched our brand where we (unknowingly) skipped a quality check step on an order of totes. We received the order, shipped them to customers, and quickly learned that the handles were breaking. We immediately communicated the issue to our customers, dealt with the situation responsibly, and from then on we have always paid very close attention to our quality control process. It was an invaluable learning in how important it is to be detail-oriented.

 

In the 1998 movie Sliding Doors, Gwyneth Paltrow’s character lives through two scenarios. In one scenario, she just barely catches the subway, leading her life in one direction. In the second scenario, she just misses the subway, leading her life in a completely different direction. If, due to a twist of fate, your life had taken a completely different direction at age 20, do you think you’d be a fundamentally different person than you are today?

Jessy: No, I think a lot of what makes you your own person is what you love, what you need to learn, and what you gravitate towards. I think I would be a similar type of person if my path had taken me in a different direction, because my passions and drive would be the same. I sometimes think about this, but it makes me a bit sad because I wonder if I would have met the people in my life who bring me the most joy and happiness. Ultimately, I choose to believe that I was destined to meet my peeps, and be where I am right now. :)

 

If time travel were perfected, would you go back and change any part of your life if you could?

Jessy: No, I genuinely wouldn’t change anything because I needed every moment to bring me to where I am now. I also have no desire to live a perfect life. It’s the messy, weird, unexpected things that make it an interesting journey! I would LOVE it if time travel existed though, because I would totally put time on hold whenever I travel. I could do without the commute time!

 

 

 

 

Bouchra

Bouchra Ezzahraoui, co-founder of Aurate New York

 

 

In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Joel (played by Jim Carrey) finds out his ex-girlfriend had decided to erase her memories of him. If you could erase some of your memories, would you?

Bouchra: No. I believe that every life experience shapes you for who you are, both the joyful and the painful. When I was 12, I was in a near-fatal car crash; it was no doubt a traumatic experience. However, it taught me the fragility of life and how important it is to always be in the present. It also taught me that I needed to strive to be a safe driver or probably how to handle a shock when I grew up!

 

Memories fade with time and the feelings towards them change over time. As such, it would be stripping away what makes someone who they are if they were to erase certain memories from their past, even if they were negative. I believe some of these negative experiences become foundations for positive transformative change.

 

Do you believe negative life experiences are as important as positive life experiences?

Bouchra: Yes. I believe negative experiences, while traumatic, sad, or heartbreaking, ultimately lead to positive long-term changes in one’s life. I was kicked out of school at the age of 13-14 which pushed my parents to send me away from home to continue my education in a different country. I was away from my family and my childhood friends but this initially negative experience helped nurture my independence, open mindedness, and made me who I am today.

 

In the 1998 movie Sliding Doors, Gwyneth Paltrow’s character lives through two scenarios. In one scenario, she just barely catches the subway, leading her life in one direction. In the second scenario, she just misses the subway, leading her life in a completely different direction. If, due to a twist of fate, your life had taken a completely different direction at age 20, do you think you’d be a fundamentally different person than you are today?

Bouchra: Yes. At the age of 20, I could have decided to remain in France as opposed to move to the US for school. I might have considered London as an alternative, but choosing to leave Paris changed my life trajectory completely. Had I not attended my graduate program in the US, I would have not moved to New York, started my career in Finance, met and married my husband and started Aurate with my business partner Sophie, whom I met my 1st week at Princeton!

 

I wouldn’t say I would be a fundamentally different person had I stayed at home in Paris or moved to London; my core values and personality would remain intact, but my life experience would have been dramatically different.

 

If time travel were perfected, would you go back and change any part of your life if you could?

Bouchra: Yes. I would be easier on myself, allow for more time with family, and budget more for experiences and travel. I always wanted to take a year off and travel the world. It sounds cliché but it would have helped shape me in ways that I would have never expected. I still want to do that with my husband once our kids can walk or probably when they go to college; we have already traveled extensively together and plan to continue to do so for as long as our legs permit us!

 

 

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