Am I Too Young to Matter?
“You can only be young once. But you can always be immature.” -Dave Barry
I recently had a conversation on Twitter in which I was sharing some insights on health and life. My conversation partner thought that I was making some very good points, and all was going well. Then she revealed that she is married with kids, and suddenly I thought, “What wisdom can I offer this person, who has seen so much more of life than I?” I was embarrassed, even though she had agreed with my ideas and said that her experiences confirmed them.
I realized that I have a belief that I cannot offer much to the world because I am so young. All of my ideas have only been around a short time, and the hard trial of years hasn’t yet tested their worth.
But is my youth really that much of a handicap?
When I share my insights on life, there is a voice in my head saying people older than me might dismiss my ideas because I’m only 25. They might wonder how much I could possibly have gleaned from my life in that short time.
If I’m encouraging happiness, I worry they will think that I haven’t accepted that life is hard.
If I’m talking about difficulty, I worry they will think that I have an entitlement complex, that I expect the world to be handed to me because I’m young and don’t yet know how to do hard work.
There’s really no way to win over stubborn old people (especially when you’re not sure they really think that way at all).
But stubbornness is not a trait reserved for the mature. It is something many young people exhibit as well. Many of my friends are stubborn in a way unique to younger people: they think they know everything, that they have it all figured out already. They have decided that their way is the right way. If life proves them wrong, they refuse to acknowledge it and suffer, eventually adopting the belief that life is just bitter.
Of course, I was one of these stubborn young people. When I started CrossFit, I was 100% sure it was the absolute best way to get fit, and that Paleo was the greatest diet ever conceived. Both of these things together could and would solve all my health problems, as well as everyone else’s, if only I could convince others to listen.
When the reality disagreed with my beliefs, I clung to them for a long, long time, stubbornly persisting that I was doing the right thing, even though I was getting hurt and sick.
And then came the choice: I could either keep trying to Be Right, or I could accept the reality I was living in and open my mind to learning again.
Everyone makes this choice eventually, whether they are aware of it or not. One day, reality comes along and tells us that we don’t have it all together, and that our narrow black-and-white worldview isn’t very accurate. It tells us this by making us suffer for our inaccurate beliefs. Nothing personal, but when you expect one thing and get another, suffering tends to be the result.
A World Full of Children
After college, I expected all the real-world adults to start acting like adults were supposed to act: wise, open-minded, rational, moderately stable emotionally. Instead, I found myself in a world of people trying desperately to cling to their college way of living and, even more scary, their college way of thinking. Actually, many of the ‘adults’ I was interacting with seemed to think that graduating college gave them a license to completely revert to preschool behavior.
Of course, there are aspects of childhood which are worth preserving. The willingness to dream big, try anything, make new friends, and always be playful are qualities that so-called grown-ups throw out, even as they hold on to the self-indulgence.
I was surrounded by the worst kind of two-year olds in adult bodies, with adult responsibilities and adult resources.
And that’s when I realized that growing up is a choice. It is a choice to get over our self-centeredness. It is a choice to accept that our emotions need not direct our behavior. It is a choice to exercise moderation in our indulgences. It is a choice to learn how to play nice with others.
Too often, free of the expectations or the rules of childhood, many adults simply start acting like toddlers. Working at a school, I’ve been shocked and surprised to see how often behavior that is not tolerated in children is acceptable among adults.
You can be wealthy, influential, well-liked, and respected without being particularly mature. It all depends on the standards you hold yourself to.
The Test of Time
Furthermore, many people go to a lot of trouble to avoid testing their beliefs and values. So even if life has never proven them wrong, their lives are glass houses, carefully constructed far away from rocks and those who might throw them.
I like to think that I keep myself open to trials, and I make an effort to revise my beliefs based on what life teaches me. Instead of doing everything I can to Be Right, even going so far as avoiding any challengers, I try to put my values to the test so that I can keep growing. In addition, I try to have many wide and varied experiences.
I think that is a better indicator of whether someone is worth listening to than their age alone (of course, I’m biased).
So I’ve decided that I’m not going to let my youth deter me from offering my insights into life. I may not have as much experience as others, but I squeeze every lesson I can out of the experiences I have had, because I never close myself off to them.
Of course, the people who are older and hold that over my head aren’t going to be open to new ideas anyway.
I’ve written a handbook to share my experience in health, exercise, and diet, and what role I think they should play in our lives. You can check it out here (it’s free).
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