I’m embarrassed to say that when I was young, especially between maybe 18 and 25, some unconscious part of me felt a tiny bit sorry for anyone who was more than 3 or 4 years older than I was. I hate admitting that, but it’s true. I had absorbed and accepted the idea that youth was the pinnacle, and everything after represented decline.
Even beyond those years, I felt an advantage, however slight, over someone even a year or two ahead of me.
The reasons for feeling that way are probably too obvious to be worth listing, but I can say sincerely...I no longer feel this way.
I don't feel sorry for those ahead of me - in fact, I desperately want to suck every bit of wisdom from their brains. I also don't feel any sense of inferiority to those behind me.
There's this weird time warp involved, too. The distance between years is really only seen when you're looking forward. I was 12 years old just yesterday...
So since I just happily celebrated another birthday, I want to share some good news with you, my friends.
Even in years of hardship, even in the moments I recognize deeper lines in my skin and fewer open roads in my future, I have not yet wanted to return to a younger version of myself. Revisit some great moments? Perhaps. But I'd insist on taking modern-day me along.
I find that life is always turning over, and the moment something is lost, something else is gained.
This gets harder, that gets easier.
A particular joy dissipates, another grows.
And here are some things I’ve LOVED about growing older so far. Maybe you're experiencing some of these? Maybe you'd add to the list...
The time for feeling I must prove myself to others is behind me. I’m not going to say I am ego-less now, but it’s true that I am motivated much more by a simpler desire to use my life well. By that I mean to use my days, my mind, my money, my talent, my body and all other resources to serve the people who have been placed in my care or on my heart. I can’t say I am yet beyond the desire to prove something to MYSELF, but it’s progress.
Less fear, more fun. As soon as I entered middle school, like you, I became increasingly self-conscious, insecure, concerned with how I looked and sounded, which is a sadly distracting and often debilitating way to live. Am I right?? It was a big factor in my struggle with stage fright and hindered me from loving people well, especially during high school and college.
As you grow older, you will hopefully also grow in your understanding that you are wonderfully made, that you were created with love and intentionality. This isn’t feel-good fluff. It is not an abstraction. This is a deep & vital truth worth meditating on.
It extends from the work you love all the way to the shape of your toes and that unique way you walk and the quirky way you move your mouth.
As you grow, I hope you will stop wanting so badly to smooth over those angles and oddities and instead begin to straighten your spine and walk into the coffeeshop NOT wondering how other people are perceiving you. NOT trying to be and buy and think and choose like everyone else.
P.S. People aren’t looking at you anyway...they’re wondering what people think about their new haircut.
- I know me. The first several decades of life are like being handed a complex gaming system that’s totally one-of-a-kind, along with all the necessary remotes and power cables, BUT NO OWNER’S MANUAL.
It's like you're pushing buttons, hoping for the best. Screens flicker and you can't figure out why. Is it an Input?? Where is the Home screen??
For REAL, life is a little easier when you understand YOU and how YOU are wired, as a particular human creature.
It takes a lot of years and mistakes to even start catching on to some pretty important things, like: What kinds of things trigger my anger and why? What are the primary ways my soul gets fed? What are my relational blind spots? What is it I’m so afraid of? Where is that mysterious intersection between my gifts and the world’s needs? What kind of lifestyle am I really suited for?
You don’t need to be more self-focused. You just have to live long enough and take notes until you start getting the hang of you.
I now have a decent grasp on what I have to offer and what I do not, who I am and who I am not. And I've hopefully still got a long way to go.
My work has been established. I was so afraid when I was young that I would never find a way to do this work. And there were no shortcuts...you just have to put in the time, and I’m pretty happy to be on this side of it.
Not a final arrival, but not at the start either.
You gain so much confidence once you’ve tackled lots of scary tasks and either a. Succeeded or b. Failed and lived to tell about it.
I’ve learned the hard way that the worst that can happen when you publicly fail (and I have) is not going to be a big deal in the life of either you or the universe.
At the end of the day, you will still come home to people who know you and love you.
And hopefully you will have learned something.
The rest is gravy.
A more open mind, broader perspective. Life and faith and politics--most things--are less black and white than I once thought. That makes decision-making harder but loving others much easier.
Experience. I have more to offer through my work now than I did when I was young.
For sure, the young are innovative and inspire the rest of to remember how to color outside the lines. I love that.
And also, the older bring years of practice and understanding to our craft and lyrics and conversations.
I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Freedom to not do it all and not be amazing. Living in the land of the free can also mean growing up with a lot of idealism.
We tend to believe that because we CAN do ANYTHING, we SHOULD do EVERYTHING.
As kids we can’t wait to be free to see it all, do it all, taste it all, have it all, be it all.
Suddenly you’re 18, and you think: Okay, yikes. I’d better get started.
A little further down the road, my palate is more defined, my desires are humble.
The privilege & power of being a host. I’ve learned that it’s better to behave like a host in your life than a guest. You can set the table however you like it and you can make space and you can open the doors for others.
I used to wait, for permission to do or be something, or to be invited into things - high school hangouts to music collaborations. I felt like I needed people with power or authority or popularity to give me permission to participate.
When I had earned and saved enough money to release my first independent album, I realized...there is room for me at this table.
Not only is there room for me, but people are kinder and more welcoming than I expected.
Best of all, I am capable of creating spaces that invite and welcome others.
I don’t wait around outside doors anymore, hoping someone will acknowledge me. I try to smile first.
And there isn't anyone in the world whose invitation or dismissal either increases or diminishes my value.
So if you’re one of the twenty-somethings I know feeling terrified that your next birthday is going to come and you won’t have “made it” yet or found the right one yet or done your great work yet...or you are dreading turning 30 (or 40 or 65), because somehow that makes you less strong, less beautiful, less important...please chill out.
You don't have to be afraid.
There is so much more coming.
"Time is never time at all, you can never ever leave without leaving a piece of youth...and the embers never fade in your city by the lake, the place where you were born..."