10 Year Challenge

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The 10 year challenge has been making the rounds, asking us to share pictures of ourselves a decade ago, and I realised something in the few minutes I decided to do my own comparison: there’s so much more worth in seeing if the current version of me resembles what the me of 10 years ago wanted to be.

Me, circa 2009

Me, circa 2009

It got me hunting down pictures of me from way back, thinking about where I was in life, what was important to me then, and what I valued at each point. I wanted to see if - beyond the physical changes - I had progressed as a person, and had me questioning what that even means. I know that I have always had goals and in some way or another I’ve kept on my path to achieving them, which feels like a little victory in and of itself. In that way I can say that I’ve grown into what I wanted to become: a professional musician who makes a living making music.

But what values did I hold dear - and do I honour them now? 10 years ago I had just started at Berklee and I was focussed on a few key things: be the best student I could be, honour my family’s investment in sending me to the US, and work hard - which in my paradigm was equal to worship, if done with the right attitude. I don’t remember really having an idea of standards I’d set for myself, beyond being a kind, friendly human who wanted to work hard and honour his tribe. For the most part, I’d say I stuck with that, but I also don’t think I was challenged greatly outside of school to grow in other ways. I focussed so much on my work there that I really didn’t have a social life, beyond writing, recording, and performing, which meant few opportunities to be confronted with things that made me think about who I was fundamentally.


As soon as I graduated, well, that’s when the tests came. I found myself tempted to sacrifice virtue to get things I felt was lacking - which usually boiled down to either love or career prospects. I certainly wavered, but did keep myself together on those fronts - I think I have my wife, Rezal, to thank for so much of the stability she provides me.

I was tested professionally over and over again, which always called on my ability to be patient & forgiving. The biggest issue I had, though, was feeling like I couldn’t express anger or sadness when things went south, especially when it stemmed directly from other people’s actions. Looking back I realise how much I internalised that, often suffering emotional outbursts or crippling anxiety when I couldn’t contain it any longer. My threshold for kindness was often tested, and I certainly broke more often that I’m happy to admit - and in the end it ended up affecting those around me.

Something that guided me through so much of this was turning to the writings of the Bahá’í Faith, a guiding force in my life since I was small. I would turn to quotes to give me direction.

Beware! Beware! lest ye offend any heart
— 'Abdu'l-bahá

I began to seek therapy, which signaled a pretty huge turning point in my life, and offered a lot of insights into my behaviours, past and present. Understanding my emotional and trauma-based motivations for a lot of my actions provided relief and a path for growth - I feel like my monthly growth after that equalled what used to take years, if any progress was made at all.

When I look at who I was 10 years ago, I see someone who had good intentions, but had never really been tested in the arena of life post-college; I hate to call it ‘real’ life, but that’s what it felt like. I had very much been protected, which in some ways really helped me develop a moral compass, but it also didn’t prepare me for how much growth was needed. All in all, I’m proud of who I became, though there’s still so far to go. I’ve found a deep well of patience, of compassion, and of grace; I’ve found that I struggle with conflict, but I can make it through as long as I can communicate my needs, which is something else I’ve discovered is so, so important to me.

The visual challenge was fun and fleeting - but the challenge of looking in the mirror and assessing my own growth? Deep and meaningful.

Robert Gillies1 Comment