I had a birthday last week. Thirty nine. I didn’t see it coming. I knew it’d come eventually, the way you know your parents are old or your grandparents will eventually die… everyone ages, so I will too, but not like them, right? I’ll be different, I’ll get older but I won’t age.
I used to think the point of being a kid was to long to grow up, but while I was longing to stay up past my bed time or eat ice cream for dinner, I didn’t realize that along with adulthood not only came responsibility, but aging. Back aches, chin hairs, lines that start forming across my face like a road map. I wish I had more of an understanding of aging, not so much as a kid, but I would have liked to have been let in on the process much earlier than late thirties.
Much like the first round of puberty and getting thrown to the wolves to figure it all out, the adult puberty of aging has been an uncomfortable and confusing process. Many have gone before me, many will come after, and so here are some things I wish I had known from my late teens to my early twenties, and how I maybe would have approached life a little differently with these insights.
- Your grandma will not always be around. It’s something you know in your head, but it will be hard to wrap your head around the reality of it until she’s gone. Spend time with her, as much as you can. Ask her about her life, her mom, her stories. She’s not just some old woman or even your mom’s mom, she’s a person who’s had multiple lives well before you were even a thought. While it may be your time to shine in your youth, don’t let your grandma’s light dim just because she’s old. She’ll grow into even older old woman, so regardless of what your relationship may have been like before, there is still room to love and grow and start completely over with a woman who survived multiple world wars, an abusive husband, a lost love and who’s heart has been softened by age. Let you grandma be a lesson to never treat someone as if they will always be who they used to be. The woman who you thought was a little too tough on you as a kid will be one of the most joyful older women you will ever meet.
1a. Love the elderly. They matter, they matter, they matter. You will be surrounded by people who advocate for kids, which is great, but you’ll find few voices advocating for the elderly. Be one of those voices, they need it.
2. You won’t always be cool. It’s not that you were ever one of the popular kids, you made your way around with friends fine enough, but being young gives you a mindset that compared to little kids and adults, you’re currently in the cool group. You’ll feel this way up until mid-twenties, when those little kids start becoming high schoolers. It will get worse as you get older, climbing your way into your thirties and kids you used to babysit are now making fun of you the way you used to make fun of your parents and their friends. Just when you start to realize that old people aren’t really that old (remember you thought 30 was old in high school), kids start calling you ma’am and new technology will come out that you don’t know how to navigate. You’re no longer the teacher of the latest technology, you’re the student, and you hate it.
My advice, be kind to little kids, they’re the ones who are going to grow up and out-cool you. Be even kinder to your parents and their friends— you aren’t going backwards in age, you’re heading in their direction, so respect that they’ve already been where you are— just because they come from a different generation doesn’t mean they don’t know what it’s like to be a human trying to grow up in a world that “doesn’t understand the youth of today.” Every generation says that about their youth, you’re not special because you have technology, you’re more prone to awkward social interactions, so maybe appreciate the fact that your parents are trying to keep you human in a world that’s only going to get harder to live in.
3. Believe in yourself. Even when you’re the runt in the group, the newcomer, the scrawny one, the less intelligent, the underdeveloped, the easily forgotten… believe that you are capable of more than you or anyone else knows. Believe that most people don’t even know what they’re doing or how to do it. Everyone on this earth is transitioning through life trying to figure out how each new season and decade works and no one has mastered all of it, and the ones who’ve have are dead, because only then is there nothing left to learn.
Don’t act dead before you get there. Show up, try, be brave, cry, try again, believe in yourself, and do not give up on yourself. That meaning will change over the course of your life, sometimes to not give up will mean to keep going even when it’s hard. Other times to not give up means to learn to rest when necessary. It’s okay to say “no,” and even more so, “I don’t know.” You don’t have to know it all, except that you are worthy. Know that to your core. People will tell you you aren’t worthy… stand firm, respond kindly when you can, and know their words are about their own insecurities. Kindness first, followed by what is necessary to guard your own mental health.
4. You will hear the things your mother says come out of your mouth. I don’t have much advice for this other than learn to laugh at yourself and think fondly of your mother. Perhaps maybe figure out if what is coming out actually rings true to you or if you’re simply repeating it because it’s been engrained. Cling to the puns and your mother’s sense of humor, you don’t know it yet, but it will serve you well in the future.
5. There are no guarantees in life… including your parents’ marriage. This one’s gonna wreck you, probably longer than you feel like it should. Don’t “should” on yourself. Let yourself be sad over something worth being sad about. Everyone will come out okay, but you’ll still have moments, even 10 years later, where you feel the sting of losing what you thought everything was supposed to be like. Your relationship with both of your parents will change, but will grow into something even deeper with the reality of life piercing the surface level of everything being “fine.”
6. Speaking of marriage, it’s possible for it to be above and beyond anything you could imagine. It’s possible to be loved for you, all of your quirks and even your insecurities. You don’t need to morph and change ten times over in hopes that the current guy you have a crush on will notice you “just happened” to like the same things. You don’t need to prove to anyone that you deserve to be liked, loved, or even responded to… you are already enough, already loved, already worth it. Sometimes it’s not just the guy, but the timing. We all grow up at different times, don’t stunt your growth because a guy you like wasn’t ready to grow. Keep growing and trust the process.
7. It’s okay to leave the church to get closer to God. Having grown up in the church and worked for the church, you’ll think you owe it everything. You don’t. The church is not God, nor is God the church. God is love, above all else. The church was never meant to show off the best of Christianity, the church was meant to love, help, and heal the broken-hearted. And just like we all mean well as humans, we all fall short. The church will too, after all, it’s made up of people. It will let you down, leave you out, forget about you, praise you, change its mind, and at the end of the day just when you need it the most, it will call itself a business and ask you not to take it personally.
If there’s one thing the church should be, it’s personal. It’s okay to give up on what you thought the church was supposed to be. Go find God in nature, in creative endeavors, in your elderly neighbor. Don’t give up on God, or humanity, just reset your own expectations, knocking the church off it’s pedestal, realizing maybe it’s you who had the church ranked too high, for it will always be filled with lost people in need of a savior, which if they’re honest, is why they’re there. Forgive the church and take as long as you need to restore your connection to God, never again to confuse the two (God and Church) as the same, but not giving up on the people inside the church walls who may need more help than even they realize.
8. Sometimes no matter how much success you have, it will never feel like enough. That’s just life and the human condition. It is essential to know in your core you are already and always will be enough. No accolade or sold out show will truly or permanently fill the void you’ll feel from time to time. The void, I think, is part of existing in a world humanity wasn’t truly meant for. Learn to live in the tension of functioning on this side of eternity. Rest in your restlessness for something more, trust you have all you need, and enjoy the moment, it’s all we really have.
9. Not everyone will like you, ever, and that is okay. You’ll never win everybody over, so it’s best to just be yourself and let those who love you (for who you really are) find you. You will want recognition for all your hard work, but don’t sell yourself out or buy more followers to get it. Maintain your sanity by recognizing that all the greats were misunderstood and under appreciated while they were alive. Unfortunately, most people have to die to be truly appreciated and for their work to be viewed as rare genius. As a result, some even opt out of life early by choice. But trust me, it’s not worth giving up on life, that’s not taking control, that’s giving other people power.
People’s recognition of greatness is not what makes someone great, unfortunately social media will make you think otherwise. Don’t fall for it— the likes, the followers, the millions of views everyone else has. In all honesty, who cares!? They’re just as, if not more so, empty, some of them aware, some not, all still struggling to keep going viral or come up with the next hit. Keep your head down, work hard, look up, breath, and take in the joy of all your creations regardless of how other people view them.
In addition, be open to constructive criticism. Not to be confused with the online attacks from trolls trying to belittle people to make themselves feel better. Unfortunately, those people will always be out there, finding something to pick on you for, no matter how good, kind or neutral your material is. Give them what they deserve which is absolutely none of your time or mental space. Erase their comments if need be and erase them from your memory.
Constructive criticism will come from safe people, who care about you, or at the very least care about how you’re coming across.
No one ever got better without the hard work of growth and coaching where they needed it.
10. Hang in there. Don’t spend too much time waiting for life to get easier, the truth is, it won’t. The easiest day of your life will the the birthday you showed up into the world, by 39 more you’ll realize that while life is beautiful and fun, it can be really hard, and even more hard, sometimes, to care about it. Sometimes you won’t know why life is so hard, you probably won’t ever understand the meaning of it, and occasionally you’ll just want it to be over already. You aren’t alone. Where you fall short to care, know there’s plenty of other people out there who feel the same, and could use someone like you to show up and offer comfort without answers and company without agenda… just because, people are people and desire to be loved and seen just as much as you do.
I’m sure there’s more, and by 58 maybe you’ll add more, erase some or re-do the whole list all together. That’s the beauty of life, we learn as we go. The internet makes the process a little more dangerous because the world is not as forgiving as our past mistakes when they find them on online. BUT! Nothing will block your drive to live well, or your creative process to keep flowing, more than the fear of others and the fear of making mistakes. Somewhere along the way you’ll hear someone say “the mark of a true disciple is joy and bravery.” First try to remember who said it and write it down (you’ll learn more and more people want their credit). But mostly, cling to that… joy and bravery. May you have both, be both and spread both.