The indispensable asteroid years

Jane Elliott PhD
4 min readFeb 26, 2021

Everything we value in the lives we currently have rests in part on past bad decisions.

Is there anyone who doesn’t have a time or phase of their lives they regret? Something that they can’t quite forgive themselves for?

For me and many women I know, it’s stuff from our chaotic late teens and early 20s. A lot of us came into adulthood like an asteroid entering the atmosphere, burning up our own selves and everything in our path. At the time, it wasn’t clear if there would be anything left by the time we finally touched down, and it took a long while to clear the wreckage that was left.

The difficult thing is, the same fucked up stuff about gender and sexuality that made the entry so painful also gave us a major tendency to yell at ourselves. This is especially hard to combat when we believe what we did was genuinely hurtful to ourselves, and sometimes even to others. “Acting out” – the technical name for what we were doing in the asteroid years – is a survival mechanism. But looking back it can seem like our behaviour was the problem rather than the only solution we could access at the time.

I hated this part of my history so much that I used to carry this kind of alternative version of myself in my head, one who had never been so messy, so out of control, so fucking oblivious. She got all As in college, she went to a better graduate school, she didn’t get into debt. By now she’d own a house. She’d have all the good stuff of my life now, plus all the stuff I felt like I’d missed out on or detoured around, when I was too busy acting out to act right. I felt so deprived in relation to her, this better version of me, and the worst part was, I was the one who did the depriving.

What has finally helped me let some of that go has been challenging the idea that I could be the person I am now, with all the things I’ve built in my life that I value, if my past had been different. This kind of pick-and-mix thinking enables our brains to torture us with might-have-beens, but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Think about it: despite what your brain may want to suggest, the only path to who you are right now is the one that has taken you through every single thing you’ve experienced up to this point. Every action, every decision, every selection in the…