I’ve pushed four decades from the ice sheet of my life, and in that time, developed some theories on adolescence. Better put, there are things people should have told me when I was younger – don’t talk politics or religion with friends, everyone is bitterly fighting to overcome their own personal sadness so they can find a moment of happiness, getting laid young builds self-confidence – the important things. Depending on the parentals to provide a complete education, is sort of like asking Michael Phelps to teach your kid how to use floaties – sure Phelps has the experience, but the poor little guy isn’t ready for all of that knowledge.
Someone should write a book, an honest claim to adulthood’s lessons. Yea, yea, I know that’s the type of philosophical discourse we get when we’re on the tail end of our college debauchery and heading out into the “real world. ” Presumed life-theologians spout clichés about hard work and discipline and enjoying life to the fullest—stop and smell the roses but watch out for bees and what not – and all the other bullshitty stuff that you intuitively know but are sick of hearing from every authoritative figure you’ve ever met. Commencement speeches suck! Except for this one…
No, I’m talking the genuine stuff, the wisdom of the aged and experienced, things that come to light after one hits the bottom of a liquor bottle or loses a child or builds a billion dollar business only to find out his/her spouse was fucking the pool boy/girl and spending the rest of the day in discreet rehabilitative therapy.
Now armed with two scores of life, I often wonder what I would tell my fourteen year-old self. Probably things like:
The system is built backwards.
You will spend most of your energetic years working your tail off so you can spend your non-energetic years seeking adventure. Don’t do that. Wander in your youth, explore cultures and peoples, and stop chasing paper Presidents.
Don’t fake it.
You will spend a great part of your life appeasing other people’s wishes. Your parents will want the best for you but you shouldn’t compromise your inner desires and put on a front for your entire childhood in hopes of meeting their goals. You will hear the phrase “make a good first impression,” but don’t buy into it, because the first impression you make should be genuine – good or bad – because if you are false, YOU are going to spend the remaining part of your life dealing with people who have formulated their opinion of you based on a deceit. And don’t fake it with yourself, because you will face many moments in life where you feel that gut check, the cliff’s edge of your own personal principles and needs, and you will feel incredible pressure to defer to society’s desires.
Religion and politics access the limbic system.
Although few people spend time on the profound, many dip into the pools of politics and religion with the sort of open-blistered toes that cause screaming and ranting. They form strong opinions on matters and, even though logic may dictate otherwise, will push the argument from an emotional standpoint. Oftentimes, wars result. If you are going to discuss these matters, maintain a soft voice and spend more time listening than talking. Oh, and the whole notion that freedom of religion has become a political hot-button makes about as much sense as Dr. Seuss writing porn.
Life is hard.
Except, perhaps, as an aside from some over-tanned crocodile who wears cardigans and smells like feet, no one ever tells you that life is hard. There are broken promises and people who will hurt you for no reason and shopping carts that pull to the left and drivers who won’t turn right. There are tests and things that will put you in bad moods and televised crimes and senseless murders and babies that won’t stop crying and nervous moments before important speeches. There is guilt about being late and athletic losses and tax audits and overpriced dinners and bank fees. Friends will cheat and lie and display un-paralleled greed and launch into magnificent tirades over something as insignificant as too much milk in a just-purchased coffee. With a chin held high and a positive spirit, you will have to navigate this daily wretchedness, and it will erode your optimism the way Blow Pops disappear, until you are left with that uncertain gummy feeling of a chewed up life.
There are seven billion personalities in the world and some won’t like you.
Chances are pretty good you are going to serve as someone’s freezer burn. It’s ok. Let it be. There is no reason to spend time trying to earn the respect or appreciation from someone who has not expressed interest in you. Drop the ego. The pond is large enough such that you’ll never meet again. Go find another fish. But for God’s sake, put some deodorant on.
People are the same.
You’ll hear it in simple clichés like “He puts his pants on one leg at a time,” but there’s more to the story. People have basic drives, genetically wired as it were, as though Darwin knew he couldn’t depend on our intellectual wherewithal. Regardless of race, or color, or gender, or maladies, we’ll protect children, and want to smile, and feel sad when preyed upon, and have childhoods and histories full of pain and suffering. We’ll want to tell our stories to people and we’ll feel shame and embarrassment when we mess up. In spite of our cultural differences, in spite of our prejudices and ethnocentric ways, at our cores, if you can just find a way to wade through mankind’s external characteristics, you will find humanity’s humanity. Only then can you truly know people.
I know there’s a lot more to tell and perhaps some of you will post your own comments to enlighten us all. As for me, I’m off to sleep, hoping I can dream about that educated fourteen-year old who goes through life a little easier next time.