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This past weekend I did something I’ve avoided for years. I cleaned out my email. Sounds boring, I know, but it was a little like an archaeological dig into my past. I had created a lot of folders by categories over the years. So many, in fact, that scrolling through them was excruciatingly slow. It was time to simplify, like in many other areas of my life.

Cleaning these folders reminded me that I am constantly reshaping myself, maybe still trying to figure out who I am. I have so many ideas about things I want to do, places I should go, and skills I should learn. And as I get older, I’m also sorting out what there’s still time to pursue and which ships have left the harbor (I hate that). I went though dozens of email folders and began to laugh. I opened a folder titled “shop” and there was nothing in it. Did I run out of money or forget what I was doing?

I had folders about all kinds of things, like pet adoption websites, even though we already had a dog. And like new condo units even though we already had a house. One was “subscriptions” to several enewsletters that would make me healthier, wiser or richer, (but I didn’t recognize the names, so I must not have read them) and another was for a yahoo group for local dog owners I never connected with. One folder was created to collect research on how to compost (don’t ask how that went) and another was started when I thought I might be a mystery shopper (yeah). I found a folder for a job I pursued briefly and another for “college scholarships,” surely set up when all four of us were searching for tuition money. (I was happy to delete that one.)

The best part was how easily I made decisions and that most of the time I deleted. There was something very cathartic about remembering the ideas behind each folder and then letting them go. There was a time when finding evidence of a past idea would have plunged me back into the decision sea again, wondering if I was a failure for not having mastered the knowledge, skill or carried through to completion whatever I was working on. But, I didn’t struggle with that this time, not at all. In fact, I believe there’s no failure in half-explored ideas. There’s no need to feel a sense of wasted time in having considered something, a career, hobby or whatever to any level only to realize it wasn’t for you.

Thomas Edison tried many ideas and failed many times. Yet he is quoted as having said these were not failures at all. In fact, for every time he discovered what didn’t work he was that much closer to finding out what did. And I believe that’s true when inventing oneself as well. Whether sorting through email folders or past experiences and decisions, there comes a time to simply let things go and realize it was part of the process of discovering your unique self. And every new idea brings us a better understanding of who that is. I hope in a few years I’m weeding through my email folders again…for that will mean I’m still open to exploring.