People tell children their experiences aren’t legitimate all the time.
- “You’ll understand when you’re older.”
- “Puppy love is real to the puppy.”
- “Just wait — one day you’ll grow up and have real responsibilities.”
Adults even act that way to each other.
- “I wish I could be a kid again.”
- “I hate ‘adulting.’”
- “Out of student loans and tree house homes, we all would take the latter.” Stressed Out — Twenty One Pilots
It’s as if being an adult has a ‘realness’ that being a child doesn’t have. Children get to run around, play, and act with no consequence. It’s left to adults to hash out the brutal facts of life.
As a child, I was obsessed with being wise. Rather, with not being a fool. I wanted adults around me to praise me for being mature, level-headed and responsible.
As a result, I took it to heart when adults told me I’d ‘understand when I was older.’ I was careful never to take my teenage thoughts and conclusions too seriously. I hesitated whenever taking a firm stance about life with an adult. When an adult disagreed with my conclusions about life, I was quick to take their advice and revise my position.
Most of all, I was careful never to put too much weight by my decisions. I avoided proclamations like “I will never like this” or “I will always like this,” because all of the wise adults around me informed me that I would change when I became an adult.
As a result, I never took myself seriously as a teenager. I let myself follow others, instead of trusting in my own leadership of myself.
That turned out to be a problem, because I spent most of my teenage years making some pretty major decisions.
- I suffered through a horrifying depression at fourteen and decided not to seek help.
- I started a business when I turned fifteen.
- I got into a relationship when I was almost sixteen that lasted until I was almost twenty-two.
At the time, I didn’t let myself feel that these decisions were important. Important decisions belonged to adults; certainly, a sixteen year old wasn’t capable of making a major decision about life. Even if I wanted to, circumstances prevented me from making a decision with any permanence.
My decisions were real decisions all along.
- The responsibility I felt when I started a business at 15 years old has not suddenly become fake. The early maturity I gained from it has not become illegitimate. My adult perspective allows me to see that not only was that responsibility real, but that many adults avoid that level of responsibility their entire lives.
- The love I felt for my high school sweetheart did not magically become ‘puppy love.’ My adult perception of it did not make it any less serious. In fact, my adult perspective is that many adult relationships are still less serious than that one was.
- The depression I suffered as a teenager almost ten years ago has not become minor in the face of adult worries. In fact, my adult concerns are often tiny by comparison. My most troublesome problems in adulthood tend to be the result of its lasting damage.
Far from making me see how silly and small my teenage concerns were, the perspective of adulthood has made me realize they were far more legitimate and pivotal than I originally realized.
I now see that I should have taken those experiences more seriously.
I should have asked for more help with the crippling pain of depression, instead of assuming a fourteen year old girl wasn’t capable of feeling true pain. I should have more confidently spoken as an adult business professional, instead of feeling like it ‘wasn’t my place.’ And I should have told everyone around me know how serious my relationship was, instead of letting everyone tell me how teenage relationships can never be serious.
I don’t know if this is everyone’s experience. Certainly, many of my newly-minted adult friends reflect on their teenage experiences with laughter and embarrassment.
But when I think of the defining moments of my teenage years, I feel neither amused nor embarrassed. I feel grief, for treating these formative events of my life as inconsequential in the long run, simply because I was young.
It’s funny; it’s only now that I’m an adult that I’m choosing to make more superficial, short-sighted decisions. I spent my teenage years locked in the grip of major life decisions. Only now as an adult am I allowing myself to recognize that not every decision has to last the rest of my life, and that it’s all right if I don’t have anything figured out. You don’t need a career, marriage, or property ownership to be happy.
I’m discovering something else in that, too. These things truly do have no consequence, because I am assigning no consequence to them. Whether things have consequence or not is not a factor of your age, but of your attitude.
So if you don’t want a certain decision in your life to mean anything… don’t make it mean anything. If you want something to mean something in your life, let it. This includes careers, relationships, big moves, new hobbies, anything you want. You can try something new without it affecting your entire identity. You can meet someone one day and decide they’ve changed your entire life. You can take thirty years to find your ‘purpose.’
These societal judgements, like “only adults understand real love,” and “teenagers don’t know what they want to do for a living,” are just guidelines for people who are lost. They’re not laws laid down by God.
If you are a teenager and you know who you love, or you know what you want to do for a living, don’t doubt that just because some adult does. And if you’re in your thirties and you still don’t know, don’t assume you should because Glamour Magazine’s ‘Life Timeline’ told you you should.
The only thing that determines if a decision matters in your life is if you decide it does.
Life is what you make of it. It’s all up to you.