Unpacking Unit 73: Insights from Revisiting My Youth

Reading Time: 8 minutes

When my mom passed 2 months ago, she left behind Unit 73, a large storage unit with all of our possessions from my childhood.

I dreaded the task of unloading, unpacking, and uncovering the contents of the unit. I was grieving, and I knew that there would be lots of memories and emotional triggers.

But the job had to be done. So I accepted my reality and set out to unpack Unit 73 as quickly as possible.

As I’ve learned many times before, every challenge offers an opportunity for growth. 92 hours, 72 boxes, 36 trash bags, and 44 donation bags later, I discovered the opportunity in unpacking Unit 73.

Unit 73 offered me a unique opportunity to revisit and understand my childhood.

In going through everything I had and deciding whether to keep, donate, or throw it out, I learned about my life.  I remembered many of the things I forgot or misremembered. I learned about my goals, thoughts, shortcomings, and evolving understanding of the world.

Those 92 hours of exploration produced an immensely rewarding rollercoaster of joy, pain, and appreciation for what it means to be human. And I came out the other side with a deeper connection with my roots and a newfound compassion for the road I’ve been paving for the last quarter century.

Below I’ve collected some of the key insights I uncovered about young Calvin.

My desire to learn, inspire, and contribute started young

I found numerous journals from my youth that reminded me that I’ve always had an inclination to help others and contribute to the world. It was interesting to look back 10+ years and discover words similar to those I use today. Here are a few blurbs that I found interesting from the journals:

“I realize how much I want to lead. I’m not a genius, a mathematician, a scientist, a writer. I’m a thinker although like Socrates I know nothing. With practice, I will be able to persuade, articulate, and inspire.”

“My observations inspire me to formulate ideas. I am on my path to be a modern philosopher and philanthropic Renaissance man.”

“I know, however, that I cannot let anyone hold me back. I need to do things for me and break out of the conservative nature that is natural to most humans. I don’t desire fame, fortune, or personal gain, I desire happiness and remembrance. I want to do unconventional things on my pursuit through life.”

”I realize though that I must keep striving and working hard, being careful to avoid stagnancy and complacency. I hope to finish out the year strong. I continue to learn and understand more.“

“I really don’t like my job. It is filled with stagnant people and I want to be progressive. My pursuits have moved far past the juvenile and trivial. I want to help mankind.”

Here are a few adages I wrote when I was 17.

  • Success is not luck, it is work
  • The dreamer hides; the prosperer embraces
  • The intelligent slacker is not so intelligent
  • The luck of the draw is often unlucky
  • You can’t help those who don’t want to be helped

I’ve written a lot of poetry

To my surprise, I found notebooks filled with dozens of poems I had written about life, travel, and experiences. Most of these poems were pretty bad, but reading them allowed me to tap into the different ideas and emotions that I explored through poetry in my youth.

The majority of my poetry discussed important people in my life and emotions/learnings from novel experiences. I curated some of the more meaningful poems on my poetry page.

You have to believe in yourself

After I was accepted to Princeton, my English teacher called me an arrogant asshole in front of the whole class. I was deeply upset about the whole thing, and I wrote her a long letter explaining my perspective on the situation.

A Letter to My English Teacher

I found my letter to her fascinating. It gives me a unique look into how I perceived my childhood struggle, my identity, and my relationship with others during that period. It also reminded me of the importance of believing in yourself.

Goal setting is in my blood

Thanks to my Grandpa, I have always had a predilection for setting and achieving goals. In my youth, most of my goals were about doing well in school and improving my golf game.

After finding and reading my middle school journal, I realized that in 8th grade I had a new focus: the art of romance. Here were my top goals during that period:

By the check marks, it looks like I hit 100% of my goals that year.

My interests have expanded since then, but I do still set goals. You can read more about my goal-setting process here.

Middle school was REALLY awkward

In many of the boxes, I found notes, pictures, and items from middle school. I changed a lot during those years. I also learned a lot about life and romance. Here are a few of the highlights:

You don’t always get lucky with your looks in the middle years.

Love is not forever. Cruise ships are evil.

In 8th grade, I fell in love with a girl down the road. I biked to her house every day after school and even wrote her a poem or two. She said she loved me.

Three months into our fairy tale, she went on a cruise. Two days before she got back, she called and left a voicemail. I opened my flip phone excited to hear her sweet voice.

Voicemail: “Hey man, I just wanted to let you know that your girl is an awesome kisser.” [giggles in background]

I waited 48 hours in silent agony for her to get back and let me know about the funny prank she pulled. She called and said she fell in love with a great guy from Tennessee. I spent Christmas Eve crying.

Passing notes in class required a new language

I kept a bunch of notes that were passed to me in the 7th and 8th grades.

Here are a few blurbs that taught me a bit more about the hot topics during those days:

“Omg Calvin if your pissed at me cause I told [friend] that, then your a moron”

“Hey there sexay thang. This note will probably be another pointless one lol. I’m just so bored in math.”

Cheaters are good at their craft

After being cheated on: “Well like I know I hurt you – I wouldn’t forgive myself either…Now it’s all your choice so if you want to be friends then ok if you want to be together that’s great.”

After I accepted her back: “hey well I’m so so so HAPPY that everything is back to normal sorta-ish lol…well um you make me so happy when I’m with you…I love you”

After she cheated on me again: “Well I don’t know exactly what to say to you, but I truly am sorry and still love you so much…tell me if you would not want me to sit @ the lunch table – if you would feel weird around me.”

You have to learn somehow.

Adolescents are deviant (a note to my future parenting self)

Well…I guess I wasn’t the innocent kid I remember.

I wrote a book

In 2000, I wrote Calvin the Cow, a book “dedicated to my mommy.” It’s a thrilling tale about a cow that overcomes and learns from adversity. According to the author’s bio, I wanted to be a football player when I grew up. I’ve still got a few years before I hit that goal.

Death happens hard and fast

Growing up, I moved elementary schools a number of times. And after moving to a new school in the 4th grade, I struggled. A journal entry from that year sheds light on my feelings:

“Another sucky day at school. I really want to go to Rainbow very badly. It super sucks at English Estates Elementary. It really, really, really, really sucks. I can’t explain it but it just sucks. Rainbow is much better.”

I was 9 years old so forgive the repetition. I think I conveyed the core issue well.

In an attempt to cheer me up, my compassionate mom brought home two Rottweilers named Brinks and Pepper. These dogs helped me endure my turbulent youth.

I grew especially close to Pepper. When she died tragically during my middle school years, I wrote a 1,413 word tribute to her life and our relationship. I’ve shortened the tribute below to give you a taste of our story:

Remembering Pepper

After reading this, I realized that Pepper’s passing in 2005 was my first experience with death. And I believe this event helped me understand and process the sudden deaths of my good friend and mentor Howard Sherman and my mom later in my life.

Final Thoughts

When I started going through the 72 boxes in Unit 73, I just wanted to get the job done. It was an incredibly laborious and painful task.

It required me to examine my entire childhood while still in the heat of grieving my mom’s passing. I had to hold my mom’s dearest possessions in my hands and decide what to do with them. I was constantly reminded of the adversity and struggle that my mom and I endured. I broke down multiple times.

But by the end of this challenge, I had a new appreciation for my life and the journey my mom and I went on in our time together. The obstacle is the way.

This obstacle offered the opportunity to learn about my younger self, including how I thought, what I tried to achieve, my shortcomings, and what I learned from the experiences I had. I realized how much we forget or misremember about our lives. I now know that:

  • My desire to help others manifested early. This knowledge gives me even more confidence that my current path is aligned with the core of who I’ve always been.
  • Poetry is an art that has helped me express myself and understand the world. I plan to write more poetry and have written 3 poems this year.
  • Middle school was a challenging period of growth. I understand that period better and how it shaped who I am today.
  • My relationship with unexpected and sudden death started early. Losing my dog in middle school helped prepare me for losing two of the most important people in my life in a similar fashion in the last few years.
  • My belief in myself has helped me endure many challenges. My high school English teacher embarrassed me in front of the class after I realized my dream of getting into an Ivy League school, and I had the strength and conviction to challenge her words and explain my understanding of the world.

In reliving the good and bad times in such a palpable way, I was forced to think deeply about my path, who I am, and what I want out of this short life.

I have a deeper connection and understanding of the life I’ve lived thus far. And I am even more excited for what’s ahead.

Here are a few pictures from the 92 hours:

Once my uncle and I got the storage unit open.

Day 3 of unpacking and sorting.

The aftermath with my dog and my grandma.

I hope you enjoyed the embarrassing personal insights.

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