My friends over at GAFBO put up this link earlier today and it got me thinking. The questions I get most often upon meeting someone are "When did you start growing it out?" "How long did it take you?" and "Why did you start growing your beard?" I've given a range of answers to people depending on how superficial their interest seemed to be, and I rarely take it to the deepest roots of the thing. So, for anyone who wants to really know, here's one story of the cause of my beardedness and what it's done for me.
I started growing my beard out in earnest in ~2009 as a way to externalize feelings of unhappiness and inadequacy I felt inside. I looked in a mirror & didn't want to see the same face I was disappointed in. I was in the neighborhood of 280lbs and feeling unhealthy (Around 2004 I was ~170lbs). I was tired all the time and in a relationship that will have failed by mid-2010. There was a point when I just let my short goatee start growing, and something about it helped me frame what was to be a transitional point in life. I needed to be able to dissociate from the identity I'd built for myself, and the beard felt in some ways like Batman's cape & cowl, something I could put on to look like the internal change I hoped would follow.
The beard was perhaps a symptom of this internal upheaval, but it ended up being a sort of a catalyst. I started making decisions I was too frightened, anxious, or exhausted to make before - I was able to wear the persona of someone in charge of his life where I wasn't before, and that strength let me internalize the persona I'd chosen. I'm still the same person, I've just become strong and self-aware enough to identify those parts of me I want to improve and act on that desire. The beard got longer and better, and I even went to a few competitions. Truthfully, the internal & external validation I received from this positive & symbolic change in appearance helped fuel the changes I needed to make. Small changes in diet and routine, and finding the strength to become single again started the ball rolling on everything else, and it's still falling into place.
Now I find myself at damned near 30 years old and finally comfortable with this thing called adulthood. I recently started a "real job." I've discovered the value in choosing my peers wisely and limiting negative influences. I've nearly found a happy balance among diet, exercise, and indulgence, and the mirror that used to cause me anxiety and shame now grants me confidence, because I see the person I chose to be - the person who thinks critically and welcomes challenge.
So what has the beard become to me? It started out as merely a mask, but at this stage I've realized that just as my ability to grow it signified my transition into physical adulthood, the choice to grow it signified my transition into mental and emotional adulthood. The last important piece was a recent decision I've made quietly in the last several months that I must wear the beard, it does not wear me. I've decided to keep it in its current state through November 2013 for the next WBMC, but once that's over I may decide to see my chin again or make some other change.
Discussion: Think on the biggest positive turning point in your life. How did the internal & external changes manifest and interact? What was the moment you knew it was good?