Thursday, 24 May 2012

Six Things I've Learned Before Turning 24

This pretty much sums it up.

Last Thursday I turned 24, and, aside from battling a minor existential crisis, I’d say it went smashingly. Celebrating your birthday in a forest a few thousand miles away from your friends and family makes for a rather unorthodox occasion, but we made the best of it and now I’m another year older (how the hell did that happen?!?).

To be honest, since the tender age of 18 I’ve sort of given up on making a huge deal out of my birthday. Maybe it’s because since then I’ve spent the majority of them away from home or maybe, deep down, it’s because I’m just not fond of marking a day that only recognizes the fact that I’m getting older. In my experience, the mantra of age vs. wisdom is largely untrue, but then again, what do I know? I’m still relatively young, aren’t I? One thing I know for sure is you never stop learning. Which leads me to my first point:

The older you get, the less you know.            

I’m a sucker for quotes, and I try not to swamp my articles in them in fear of looking completely lame, but I have to include this one from Mr. Oscar Wilde: ‘I am not young enough to know everything’. If there’s anything I’ve learned after living for 24 years, it’s that I know nothing, and I don’t mean that in the I’m-an-idiot-and-incapable-of-doing-anything sense, but more so as an ode to the 99.99999% of things in this world I have no idea even exist. If you stop asking questions, being curious, and admitting to yourself that you have an infinite amount of learning ahead of you, you’ve reached the point of ignorance. It’s a nonstop cycle of finding answers that in turn generate five times as many questions, and we’ll never be able to understand everything, but that’s what makes it so much fun. You’ll become old when you think you’ve got it all.

Your thoughts are not your own.

Okay, without getting all mystically hippie on you, I’m going to try to explain this one in common sense terms. I learned this not a year ago and it was a major part of managing the onset of depression that could have been crippling otherwise. I’ve always been under the impression that whatever was going through my head was directly related to my self, that is who I am and the true person I have become (aka my core morals, values, outside relationships, etc). So, consequently, if I was having negative thoughts, I would feel horrible all day and I’d let it get in the way of what I wanted to accomplish. On the contrary, if I was experiencing lots of happy thoughts, I’d be in a great mood and life would be all tulips and roses and freakin’ rainbows and crap. While this part was great, I’d let my thoughts totally dictate my actions because I saw no separation between the two. Not until I realized that those often uncontrollable things that are trapped in my brain are actually completely different from the rest of my body, and I can learn to step outside of them and not let it control me. Of course, I’m still working on this, and it’s not always perfect. If you get good at this, though, you’ll actually begin to feel more mentally balanced and not have such dramatic ups and downs. This can have amazing benefits to your communicative abilities and intrapersonal relationships, not to mention your self-imagine will improve dramatically.

Your fears get bigger, and more real.

Seriously, who wouldn't be terrified??
When you were a wee child, the biggest fears you encountered included the monsters under your bed or whether or not tonight’s episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos was going to be new or a repeat. While I would never want to downplay the severity of these issues (I am still pretty sure I get visited by the Mad Hatter every night), they tend to change and morph over time into things that are more tangible and equally, if not substantially more intense. Adult fears can be debilitating - fear of change, fear of being hurt, fear of rejection – and we all face a point where we either allow our fears to control us or we do something we really fear. Although it can be awesome and even life changing to face a fear, it’s so much easier to not and to exist in our own little comfort bubble. Big fears are a big part of life, and we’ve all succumbed to ours at one point or another…Because we’re human and that’s just what happens, but to not pick ourselves up again is to do something you’ll probably regret later on.

Sometimes you’re wrong, and that’s OK.

Freakin' TANNINS, Jim. That's all I'm asking for.
Being born into my family means that, purely by default, you’re as stubborn as a door knob. Stubbornness is a funny thing; it can be incredibly advantageous yet completely destructive at the same time. I’ve gotten myself into more hairy situations that I’d like to admit thanks to this sometimes less favourable quality of mine, which made this lesson hardest to swallow. Growing up in a culture that has hard-wired competition and the value of always being right deep into my bones didn’t really help either, and I know I am certainly not alone on this. Hell, I will fight something I know isn’t true just to be the one who ends up on top. One of the hardest things you may ever have to do is mutter these two simple yet oh so painful words to another person: ‘I’m wrong’. It hurts the ego, makes us feel vulnerable and ashamed, and for us men it can be 180% emasculating, but it saves relationships. I’ve almost lost some of the most important people in my life over my inability to do this. Not being OK with being wrong can lead to quarrels over the simplest and most unimportant things – who didn’t take out the trash, which direction the bus stop is and whether the tannins in a well-aged cabernet merlot contribute to sweetness or bitterness on your palate (…just me?). Next time you’re in a heated debate heading hurtful with a loved one, step aside and ask yourself: ‘Is this worth ruining our relationship over?’. Being wrong can be so, so right.

Your bandwagon gets smaller. Much smaller.

Or too big. Whatever.
There’s no two ways around it: some adult decisions can just suck. Not necessarily because the outcome will suck, but because you know there can be a big difference between the choice you want to make and the choice that other people want you to make. You see, as you grow older, the things you want may be...How do I put it...Absolutely not what other people want for you. Throw in the fact that sometimes this includes those who are very close to you, like your best friend or your parents, and things get a little more complicated. Maybe the people who have supported you over the years (possibly financially or otherwise) are also part of the group that isn’t so quick to hop on your bandwagon. This can make things substantially more complicated. Many young adults are pressured into making decisions that they ultimately don’t want, all because they just want to make someone else happy. The only problem is that (shockingly) this usually won’t make YOU happy, and now you’re stuck living out someone else’s idea of what’s right for you. To avoid this, you’ll need to understand that staying true to your own desires can and probably will upset some people who are important to you, BUT that consequence is both temporary and won’t leave you with regrets and bitterness. Which nicely takes me to my final thought...

Be selfish.
The word selfish itself has taken on a really negative connotation, when really all it’s referring to is the ability to take care of oneself before looking outwards. As I’ve stated above, you need to stay in touch with what you want, regardless of who may think otherwise. Being selfish is just a counterpart to this important lesson, and is synonymous with the idea of self care. This is law of human emotional nature: if you want to care for others, you must care for yourself first. If you want to love others, you must love yourself first. I’ve seen too many friends or coworkers who attempt to bypass this rule in blatant disregard for their own health, and it’s a one way ticket to a total mental and physical burnout. At this point, you can render yourself useless in every regard, which can have negative impacts socially, at home and at work. SO do yourself a favour and BE SELFISH once in a while; it’s really the best thing for everyone.

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