I was reading some of my old journals this weekend. It was a refreshing experience to connect with the thirteen year old me. I didn’t know so much back then, and I spent several pages trying to convince myself that I was indeed ready to “grow up”. Perhaps what my past self meant by that phraseology was that I wanted to be taken more seriously. I was tired of being a baby. I was tired of having my stronger opinions laughed at. I was ready, indeed, for some respect from the adults around me and my peers. Evidently, I was not prepared for all the inhibitions and childhood constructs that I would have to let go, and how painful they would feel. It would be a cliched reflection to wonder why I didn’t stumble across some divine resource of wisdom entitled “Adolescence 101”. That’s when I wondered, do teenagers actually welcome advice? Maybe all that I wanted to know was around me, but I was too busy being angry and angst-ridden to listen to it. Or maybe, I learned through field experience.
From what I’ve observed, I was heavily biased towards accepting advice from my peers than from my parents, or anyone comprising of the faction of adults. There were moments in which it seemed a constant struggle, the teenagers at clash with their elders, in order to prove some point that the adults really didn’t care about. I grew up in a society that had some deeply rooted stereotypes about teenagers. They’re supposed to be angry, confused, rebellious, arrogant, frustrated and closed off from those not going through the same emotions as them. I made it a personal point to prove a few of these stereotypes wrong. A weird trend that I noticed was that the more I tried to break out of a particular stereotype, the more I was reinforcing some other one. I was rebelling against the common stereotype of being a rebel and so becoming one anyway. And in our society, the number of stereotypes is not finite, so it became particularly hard to evaluate my score. There were moments when I gave up. The world thinks I’m an arrogant, self-obsessed frustrated being? So be it. It was tiring to combat opinions that have been established by generations of teenagers before me. But then, the intrinsic drive to be different and suchlike would take over and I would be back at the front lines of a 7 year long battle.
One of the reasons why my friends’ advice resonated with me was because I knew that they were going through the same tumultuous wave of change as I was. Some were a bit ahead of the curve and some were a bit behind, but we were still within a recognized isolated bracket. It never occurred to me to question their opinions. I reasoned with myself that sooner or later I would be going through what they were going through or had gone through anyway, so I might as well acquire as much information about the phenomena before it happened to me. By sheer virtue of age, I didn’t question the credibility of their world views as well. I know now that a few were really messed up, and I consider myself lucky not have been so enamored by it so as to pencil myself in as a member of their cult.
But the advice from all the well-meaning elders around me was passed through several filters before my mind took it up for consideration. They had prior experience with growing up, yes, but that was so long ago, that circumstances were widely different then. The generation gap was too wide to be bridged by some simplistic analogous comparison. Another one of the more (evidently) nonsensical reasons to discard their input was because my adolescent mind refused to understand that any adult soul could empathize with the magnitude of confusion I felt. How could they possibly understand the fine nuances until they were actually inside my head, or in my position? So, I inferred, that their input was actually just an educated guess.
Experience has served to prove that all of these miscellaneous perspectives were heuristics. Everyone’s growing experiences are different, so the only person who was fully capable of writing a manual customized for myself was me. The only problem was that by the time I was capable of performing the feat, I thought I would not need it anymore. This condition works only if we believe that growth stops when you’re an “adult”, which isn’t true. There’s a stage of maturity that follows when I realized that I’m actually waking up a version next.0 of my yesterday’s self.
However, to be duly grateful, those heuristics did give me a fair approximation of what I was to expect. More so, I came to realize that there are moments when it is more important to have company during disaster than actually be prepared for that disaster. So, I went on to try to confront the world with whatever supportive padding I could get from my peers and my friends and family stood by me whenever I was injured or letting go of the fight. It doesn’t matter now whether their advice was accurate to which degree. What matters is that they trusted me enough to share whatever knowledge they thought was valuable, and they hoped I would find it the same. I came to respect their gesture more than the actual content. It might seem a bit interfering at times when someone else offers their opinion, but I’ve come to know that it’s a form of showing that they care. After all, the people we care about are as helpless to safeguard us as we are susceptible to change.
Maybe I’ve inherited the same behavior myself. I try not to suggest solutions until I hear out the entire problem from all dimensions. I don’t know if the people who ask for it actually adhere to what I have to say, or maybe it just comforts them that someone out there is ready to hear them out. I like to listen people talk about their lives, because it’s an opportunity for me to get a sampling of the varied spectra of human existence. But I respect the fact that they trust me enough to let me know about the trials of their life, and I try to be as helpful with my limited experience as possible. I consider it a sign of personal growth that I’ve arrived at some point in my life where people respect me enough to personally allow me a glimpse into their lives. To summarize to my thirteen year old self, I think I would say, “Everything’s going to be okay. The universe is going to approach towards some equilibrium where everything, literally everything, will work out for the best. Keep the faith and stay strong until then.”