It’s crazy to think that 18 years ago I was farting my way through the final hours of high school, of childhood.
I naively assumed that because I breezed through the seas of high school that my future waters would be calm and easily passable. I thought because I wrote a few essays, passed Algebra and successfully dissected a frog I was, as the Victorian poet William Earnest Henley once penned, “the captain of my soul.”
Like most 18 year olds I was– for no good reason– confident. I was sure I knew everything that needed to be known. I even remember, in the waning hours of high school, telling Cindy about my life plan…
- marry Cindy (ok somehow, by the grace of JK Rowling, this magically happened)
- write an award-winning novel
- sell the manuscript to Hollywood
- make millions of dollars
- retire at age 30
(Of course, at the time Cindy gushed over my plan. But that was 18 years ago and dreams 2 thru 5 can now be found in my private landfill rusting and rotting along aside other quixotic dreams such as growing a full beard and 6 pack abs.)
Teaching high school seniors affords me the opportunity to witness the oddity that is 18. It’s a time where childhood idealism begin to tangle with adult delusions. And so at 18 you’re a bitter concoction of idealism and disillusions. No wonder why when you’re 18 no one really likes you.
It’s April now and my students are beginning to commit to college and though this is exciting and worthy of a celebratory dinner down at the Olive Garden, my students are starting to digest the odd feeling that the free breadsticks and salads of high school are running out.
Of course, I love this time of year– tax rebates, baseball and only two more calendar flips until June. But even more so– in my class, literary discussions are now giving way to life discussions.
At this time of year my students pepper me with questions about how I was able to figure out life. They see me in my current state– an established teacher, this blog, my wife, kids and they think that this was all part of my plan. They did not witness all the failures and fears and and heartbreak and indecision that led to this current moment.
But here’s the thing… it has taken me 18 years to just begin to figure it out… only recently the purpose of my life began to grow clearer. Now the edges are still blurred but at least 18 years after I graduated high school I am starting to have a clue. So for this week’s Fast Five I share with you 5 things I wish I knew when I was 18…
1. There is a real danger in believing in your own fiction.
This has nothing to do with writing and everything to do with living authentically. You spend most of high school fabricating a life that will impress other people. And often these fabrications are mistaken as truths. If you’re lucky you will receive and accept your dose of reality. But sadly some don’t. Some never accept reality. And for those unfortunate blind souls there is such devout belief in their own fiction that reality has been permanently skewed. This is dangerous. It leaves you destined to live an inauthentic, fabricated life. When this is the case, when this is your life– you, my friend, are stock character in classic Greek tragedy.
2.That earning a degree in “experience” is more important than earning a degree in some field of study.
I tell my students that as you age you collect “baggage.”(Baggage is just a visual name for responsibility– a job, a mortgage, school loans, children, a spouse) And with this accumulating “baggage’ it will become exponentially more difficult to explore the possibilities of your life. I highly recommend that you meet new people, try different jobs, and travel before you accumulate too much baggage (especially with the cost of carry-ons these days).
3. No one really knows what the hell they are doing.
I’m pretty sure that unless, you’re Steve Jobs, Lebron James, or Jesus most of us at 18 have no clue what we are doing with our lives. Take comfort in that. I do. Everyday.
4. School loans are real.
I though school loans were just another things adults used to scare teenagers. But those loans are real. And they are not spectacular. Don’t believe me? Ask Wendy down at the TD Bank if you can see my current bank statements. When you graduate from college you want financial flexibility. Look, I know I sound like Charles Schwab here but financial flexibility will allow you to do more of the experiencing I was talking about in point #2.
5. It will take many years for you to figure out who you are and what you want.
Self-discovery is a long and arduous process. One that many adults grow tired of and ultimately settle for a life that disinterests them. Don’t give up on yourself. Allow yourself the opportunity to evolve into something greater. Look, my children have their own life, their own destiny– but its been a great privilege to watch them evolve into these creative, curious people who are trying to figure themselves out. I only hope they spend the rest of their lives being just as creative and curious.
Listen to your life. Be patient with your life. Have courage to figure yourself out. You owe it to yourself to evolve into the best version of you.