There’s something incredible that happens as you get older. At first aging may seem like a cage that gets smaller each time you pass another year, trapping you in the prison of shortening time and making you feel suffocated. To an extent this feeling never completely goes away, but with the oncoming of maturity also comes emotional liberation.
As children we are not ready for this experience. Childhood is meant for fun and exploration, naivete and learning our limits, and discovering the differences between right and wrong. The journey to this feeling of freedom begins in our adolescence at the first moment we start wondering what other people are thinking when they look at us. In its youth, this feeling seems like a fairytale. Around the time a pre-teen sets out on the awkward road of physical changes and self-discovery they are entirely self-centered and obsessed with fitting in. There are some people who may refute this, and to an extent everyone’s experience is subjective, but at the same time every person has the deeply-rooted need to be liked. As a teenager this need is your world. It isn’t anyone’s fault, it is a right of passage and a burden we must carry as we make our way to adulthood. You will say things that you don’t believe in order to make your friends like you, hold your tongue to avoid “tattling” on people that you want to fit in with, set aside activities that seem childish or uncool, and at some point you will say those words that every parent dreads hearing, “I don’t tell you everything that happens in my life anymore.”
Everyone hates this stage. Siblings, parents, strangers in the mall, and probably even you. I’ll admit that I think back to my teenage years sometimes and roll my eyes at myself. However, things start to change a little bit around the age of 18. Instead of wanting to fit in, you want good company. You desire to surround yourself with people that you like so that you have the option of actually being yourself. You are finishing high school and moving onward to college (or work, etc.) and maybe subconsciously you start to realize that the high school drama that you used to keep yourself in the center of now begins to feel like a waste of time and energy? You break out the classic Disney movies and reminisce about your childhood, then the next day at school aren’t afraid to say to your friends, “I watched The Lion King last night for the first time in years, I cried so hard!” Somewhere along the line the word No becomes okay to say if you are protecting your own well-being, and while your parents might still be embarrassing on some level you are starting to feel like enough of an adult to talk to them as an equal.
The next four years or so welcome forth affective autonomy. Your life changes drastically after high school whether you go to college or not: more freedom, new friends, more responsibility, etc. There comes a moment amongst all of this change and turmoil where you realize that you no longer care. I don’t mean this in a bad way, rather I mean that the idea that others are always watching and judging you no longer bears a weight on your mind. You begin to do things you want to do because you want to do them. You start to learn and appreciate new things, make friends with incredible people you never imagined meeting, and when you get dressed in the morning you put on clothes that make you feel good rather than clothes that will make others like you. Your relationships turn into quality friendships, and you start to understand that petty drama and fake personalities are not something that you have time or space for. It is along with all of this that you also begin to feel that quality really is better than quantity, and that you will be a happier person in the long run by allowing people in your life that you want there and ignoring those that poison your mind.
This is the path I’ve traveled over the last 10 years of my life. Now when I think back to my awkward teen years I sigh and wonder why it was ever worth it for me to care so much. I’ve learned that it’s okay that I like both shopping and football, baking and playing The Legend of Zelda, doing my hair and bing-watching Netflix in my pjs while eating cookies out of my TARDIS cookie jar, and being girly around some people and nerdy around others. Even more amazing is that this liberation gives you the energy to learn things about yourself you never even thought about before. For instance, only recently did I realize how picky I am about the people I let into my life. I can tell within couple minutes of talking to someone for the first time whether a friendship with them is a good idea, and if I decide that I want a person around I will fight to keep their friendship and I will give them everything I can. This revelation is something that I never would have come across when I was 16, but learning about it now has allowed me to strengthen preexisting and new relationships.
There is a point to this whole story. As a teenager your eyesight is so narrow it seems like high school is all there is and ever will be. After you leave you realize how big and amazing the world really is, and how worth it it is to get through those difficult years so you have the opportunity to make your reality something wonderful. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by good people in middle school and high school that made it a relatively good experience for me, but there are other people who aren’t so lucky. Those people are who I am talking to today. High school isn’t everything. Whatever else it is that is holding you down isn’t everything. The world is so much bigger, so much wilder and so much more invigorating. Maybe it is hard now, but it gets better, and after are you are free from those chains you have the ability to make your life what you want it to be. I waited longer than I would have wanted to to make this realization, don’t make the same mistake. Think about this now. Revisit old hobbies, make a list of new things you want to try and places you want to go, have all of this ready so the day you feel that door open you can step through with a smile make the most of it.