On Life and Lessons for Adulthood

28 Jan

Crossing that uncomfortable bridge between childhood and adulthood? So what is the mental picture you have of yourselves now? Kid or adult? Or is it “Mom, I am an adult now!” when it comes to rules and regulations and “Hey, I am just a kid” when flouting adult strictures has made you fall – as it sometimes does – flat on your face, requiring a hand up again?
When you turn 21 though you are officially an adult. That’s not to say of course you would have or should have done all your growing up by then. Life is a never-ending growth process, emotionally and mentally if not physically. By the time you are 21, most of your physical growth would be over or tapering off but what have you learned of life and living?

It is now that the big bad world (or the big beautiful world, depending on your viewpoint) is spread before you for you to dive into. All these years, you’ve been learning floating, swimming and diving skills; or then again maybe what school and university has imparted to you is the equivalent of Icarus’s wings without the necessary admonition not to go near the sun.
As many of us learn when we step out into the world – it’s a whole new world out there. Our parents haven’t prepared us (despite their best efforts or perhaps because of it), school hasn’t prepared us and university / tertiary education hasn’t prepared us. Coming of age and taking responsibility as an adult is akin to learning swimming in a classroom, on the blackboard and then getting thrown into the water. How your life pans out depends on how deep or shallow the water is and how intrinsic is your own ability to keep afloat.
So how do we cope? There are a myriad different life situations out there for us to deal with – romance, work, higher education… and various intricate decisions involving them. Do we tread the straight and narrow, follow already well trodden paths in the belief that it would be easier or do we strike out on our own, swashbuckling our way through thorns, bushes and scrub? That largely depends on our personalities – the paths we choose.
This is a point in your life where you have several cross roads opening before you and after you’ve travelled halfway down one, you just might decide that it’s not the one for you, you need to take another one. That’s OK, it’s all part of the growing up process; no one except an extraordinary and lucky few can know for certain what they want when they first strike out. Making mistakes and starting over again is part of life. Depending on your luck, you can use a short-cut to the next lane or you might have to retrace your steps and start all over again. But if at all possible, have the courage to do so, instead of continuing on what you know to be the wrong path, because you think it would be too much trouble to change direction.
Note: what the writer is thinking of here is education and career. Quite a few people make the wrong choices in these fields (though it had seemed the right choice at the time of choosing) and then agonize over the difficulty and expense of switching to something else.

If you married young and have children to boot, then don’t think, “Oh no, I should have waited, I’ve met The One now” and try to start all over again. Life is also about compromise and taking into consideration the feelings and rights of others.

That’s not to say however you shouldn’t marry young or that you should wait for ‘The One’ as some people do. I have seen people on both ends of the spectrum – those who married young and then bemoaned meeting their ‘soulmates’ too late and people who are still waiting for their soulmates aged forty and above.
Don’t believe everything that media and books tell you. A lot has been written about the harmfulness of fairy tales and children believing in them. As someone who grew up reveling in fairy tales, I don’t think reading about fairies, gnomes and goblins hurt my childhood – or anyone else’s for that matter.

In this writer’s opinion the one myth that children are likely to be most hurt by, by believing in fairytales in the myth of “Happily Ever After.”
Too many people believe in the myth of meeting their prince / princess and settling down into ‘happily ever after’ once they grow up.

Sorry but there is no such thing. Even if you are fortunate enough to meet and marry your soulmate and are madly in love with him / her – you are still going to have ups and downs – in your life, in your marriage and in your moods. Learn to deal with that realistically instead of going in rosy eyed and then coming out teary eyed.
As a naïve teenager who had never had a relationship (strict parents), I got to observe others’ relationships close up by living in a hostel. After seeing one too many scenes of crying and catfights the girls indulged in with their other halves, I told one “You have completely disillusioned me. I always thought love was about singing and dancing round trees.”

Not that I really thought any such thing but I did think it was all about euphoria and rose-tinted glasses –not anger and pain and the thrashing out of issues. And romance is of course a much lauded theme in too many forms of media that brings with it its own form of delusions.

“All the Mills & Boon I read have men with pantherish grace and manners; how come the guys I meet don’t exhibit anything of the sort – unless of course it’s Pink Pantherish grace and manners?” is a quote from a girlfriend I often remember with much amusement.

Yes well, if you are going to believe in those kind of romances, you will eventually meet a super rich guy (Middle-class and poor guys don’t exist in the world of romances) and after thinking of you as a gold digger for the initial ninety five percent of this episode ( which of course you are not – of course your attraction to him has nothing to do with his money), he will then fall violently in love with you, confess he has loved you all along and sweep you off to Spain – or some such exotic place.
You can wait a long, long time for this one to come true. Meanwhile people all around you are ‘falling in love’ and despite the human race existing for millennia, philosophers are still discussing if love is just a shot of hormones in youth or something more long-lasting.
Life ultimately is all about decisions and choices, but no matter how much or how little thought you put in to those choices, there are likely to be pitfalls, regrets and what-ifs along the way. At the end of the day, there are no right or wrong choices. It’s all part of the growing process – although some people regret their lives more intensely than others.
Have conversations with elderly people on their views on life, how they lived it and the choices they made / would make if they had a chance to do it all over again. If you pick the right sort of people to ask, you will come away with some real eye-openers. In the absence of that, read the autobiographies of people. Not necessarily just the great ones, even the not-so-great ones sometimes publish their stories because they have something to tell and it’s worth hearing.
But understand, in your pursuit of understanding life and how to live it, that there are always potholes along the way, no matter how careful you are and if you are too careful looking out for those potholes, you might miss looking up to appreciate the beauties and wonders around you.
An early experience that influenced this writer’s own youth was the visiting of death bed patients on a regular basis to try to cheer them up. They were not happy souls, terminally ill and bedridden, just waiting to die. All they could think about was their own lives and how badly they had lived it. They had so many regrets – about being disobedient children, of being a bad wife/husband, of being neglectful parents…
I suppose the fear of death (which also occupied their minds heavily) brought into focus for them only their wrong doings but I didn’t see that then. I was just influenced to think I would live my life in such a way as to have no regrets on my own deathbed – and that meant being the perfect student, daughter, friend, employee. Nothing wrong with that in itself I suppose but the way I went about it in trying to be too perfect and always putting myself last in the belief sacrifices were necessary brought a bad case of burn out years later – along with intense regret on not living my youth and life as I had wanted to.

Oh well, we live and learn. And that finally is what life is all about. All the coaching and advice in the world won’t prevent you from having problems and that finally is how you will learn – whatever lesson it is that life has decided to teach you. So pay attention – because life too has a system of making you retake failed exams. If you have a problem recurring again and again in your life no matter where you go to avoid it, it means you haven’t learned the lesson ingrained in the situation yet. Learn it successfully and the problem will go away.
Meanwhile here are some time tested tips to help you on in your journey:
– Have a healthy level of self-confidence and self esteem (not to be confused with arrogance). Those qualities are essential for a successful life so work on them and seek help / counseling if necessary to build them up.
– Build as many real-life experiences as you can. Even while at school, volunteer for worthwhile projects, travel and see places and meet / interact with different people. Nothing like learning how to live life other than by actually living life.
– Experiment with different things while you still can. Try different jobs to see which ones fit you the best. Look around well and deeply before committing yourself to a specific higher education (higher education being too long and expensive to retrace paths in many cases).
– Take the time to have fun and feel good along the way (and that doesn’t mean drugs and alcohol – those are not the only ways to feel good).
– Feel good about your youth and its value but understand that older people have something to offer you too. They have the life experiences you don’t – so figure out who the wiser ones are (age doesn’t automatically ensure maturity unfortunately) and learn from them.

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