Life isn’t a test, it’s a lesson.
As an adolescent, there weren’t a lot of things that genuinely frustrated me. But the one thing, the one oft-said phrase that made me scoff and truly annoyed me was, “You’ll understand when you’re older.”
We’re expected to grow up. It’s part of life to understand that life is beautiful, it’s perfect. It’s being kissed by the woman you love every morning.
Other times, it’s like getting stuck through the cheek with a hook and pulled out of the only cool waters you’ve known. Life in itself is a catch-all lesson, but there are also a few other things that, try to deny it as we might, we’re forced to confront and accept if we’re to ever be at peace.
1. People Don’t Always Grow Up
There are types of people out there, while fully expected to act like functioning, accountable grown-ups, who dismiss adulthood as an invention of society to keep them down. They are the same people who think they are the next Hunter S. Thompson because they do drugs and can form an entire sentence in English. Or the next Don Draper because they drink heavily and know how to properly tie a necktie. All they’re missing is the brilliance and genius it takes to be the aforementioned men.
These are people whose entire existences are based on recapturing their former glory days. The ones who tell the same story about when they were someone to be reckoned with in high school. The ones who, rather than understand that life is, at its basis, a learning experience, choose to waive any chances of change, new experiences, and true happiness for the relative comfort of reliving years-old recollections made vapid from repetition.
It may seem irresponsible to overlook these types of people. Depressing, even. The truth is, though, some of these people will go through their entire life conning others into giving them responsibility because their unwillingness to “grow up” is mistaken for something endearing.They are childlike as opposed to having childish charm. And when it comes down to that point, all we can really do is shrug it off because, well…
2. You Can’t Win ‘Em All
Sometimes, we won’t get the blue ribbon or the first-place trophy. We may not even get the cheap plaque adorned with the “Thanks for showing up” award: PARTICIPANT.
That doesn’t mean we should stop trying. It doesn’t mean we should cut corners, take the easy way out or just wait until it goes away.
Not being able to win them all is, in fact, a blessing. As today’s youth grows up, they’ll be taught in some respect that just showing up is enough, even if they don’t want to be there. That they’ll be rewarded for simply doing what they’re expected to do. It’s interesting to see how just doing our jobs may produce endless accolades among our peers.
Duke was taught the lesson by Lehigh in March: You just can’t win ’em all. And that’s what make Cinderella stories all the more beautiful and mesmerizing. Lehigh gained instantaneous fame as thousands of brackets fragmented that night and Duke is being forced to reconcile losing to a No. 15 seed team.
We all have something to prove. But as adults, it should now mostly be to ourselves.
3. Loss is Permanent
The loss of human life is nearly always tragic. And at the risk of sounding depressing, demoralizing, and macabre, understanding the permanency of death is a profound part many of us face as adults without even realizing it.
Maybe those things we were told as children (that a pet has run away, someone in the family has moved away, etc.) were justified. The simultaneous complexity and simplicity of death require a mature mind to fully comprehend, regardless of religion or lack thereof.
Some nights, I still find myself attempting to understand the gravity of death. But, as an adult, we can’t divest ourselves of daily responsibilities to question the endgame like we used to. What we’re forced to do, however, is confront a heartrending realization on a constant basis that, while we’re alive, we will never see someone or something again.
As an adult, though, it gives us faith. Whether you believe you’ll see the departed again or are striving to be better to honor a memory, we ultimately become better people.
4. Time Does Indeed Heal Wounds
I have a beautiful girlfriend who means the world to me. Had anyone asked me three months ago if I would be ready to be committed to someone, I would have said no. Hell no, are you crazy?
It’s difficult to get through break-ups. Especially if they are ones that aren’t foreseen and aren’t initiated by us. But, as Robert Frost said and I’ve learned, if there are three words that can accurately describe every part of a human life, they are: “It goes on.”
We may never forget some things—a certain smell, song, or food—that tie us to other people, but, as adults, time mercifully passes at a quick rate as our obligations span further into the future. And as we spend the years working, paying our dues, living, laughing, and crying, time sands down the jagged edges of our painful memories, gently fitting them together with the other pieces of our psyche and helps craft us into well-rounded adults.
Five years become a smaller fraction of our lives as we age. And traumatic memories become easier to digest, even if it hurts every now and then.
Emotional scars may never fully disappear, but the wounds do eventually heal.
5. Friends Are More Valuable Than Money
It’s impossible to really put a value on money as an adult nowadays. It’s worth more than the dollar amount printed on the bill or the numbers attached to a balance—money can give peace of mind, destroy our feelings of security, and make or break us.
The most intelligent man on the planet, if he cannot find a way to prove it, may end up as nothing without money.
A friend, however, can do all the same things. For free. Without having to slave at a dead-end job to make ends meet. A friend, as an adult can lift us from poverty. A friend can supply us with provisions to be happy in a way that money cannot: understanding.
Because no matter how long and how serious you talk to Mr. Franklin, he ain’t going to say anything back.
Friendship in adulthood is trying. Forty-hour work weeks, relationships, and other obligations impede the simplistic ways we grew up with. We can’t meet our best friends at the swings during recess anymore.
But that’s what makes it worthwhile. An adult friendship makes us feel like we are children. For a little bit, the bills aren’t sitting on the table, unopened for fear of what lies beneath the flap, and complaining about bosses at work eventually devolves into smack talk about the asshole kid who thinks he’s above the law of the playground.
Wealth produces an entire different set of memories—ones innately tied to spending. Memories based on friendships, however, can take place at anytime, anywhere, and without spending a dime.
6. Life is a Gray Area
When we’re young, life is pretty black and white. Either you got it or you don’t, be it a new game, your homework or a date Saturday night.
Somewhere along the way, as we meet more people and experience new things, things start to get muddled. Our perspectives may change on certain things because our ability to empathize with situations and our fellow men expands.
We may not have understood why someone was the way they were as a kid, but, as we weather hardships, bask in successes, or go through sudden tragedy, we begin to understand. Perhaps our opinions of said person may not change, but we do understand that not every person grew up with the same people in the same place during the same time.
Unless we go through life completely sheltered, absolutely close-minded or ultimately become a cable television “news” host, it becomes difficult to not question yourself and those around you.
7. Being Respected is Better Than Being Liked
There are numerous styles of leadership out there. We’ve all experienced the quasi-dictators in the workplace. At the other end of the spectrum, we’ve also met those who want to be everyone’s friend.
In a professional environment—in any environment, really—being the wild one doesn’t pay off anymore. The guy who does anything for $1? Yeah, he’ll be at a party or something of the sort, but what he won’t be doing is moving up.
There are people who I don’t like, but respect immensely. If you respect someone, that means he or she knows what is going on and how to do the job. I’d rather be the guy who knows how to do his job and do it well than the first person to get the pink slip even though he is everyone’s pal.
And if it comes down to it, if someone doesn’t like you even if you are a respectable person, screw him. He is in a group of people mentioned in the first item on this list.
8. There Are Scarier Things Than Monsters In The World
Although we are lucky enough to not be killed because of who or what we worship in the United States, there are places out there in which you will be persecuted. Scratch that. Murdered. Drawn and quartered, immolated, shot, hanged.
Even in the United States, prejudice escalating to violence is not an unheard of thing. It’s impossible to escape the physical confrontations and struggle of our world. It’s scary, yes. But does it need to be known? Absolutely. We can’t issue a warrant on the bogeyman for human rights violations.
The real world, something we’re expected to accept as we grow, is, quite honestly, more terrifying than any knife-toothed ghost in the shadows.
9. It’s Hard (If Not Impossible) To Change Someone
There’s medical research out there saying we’re pretty well into our habits by the time we hit 12 years. While it’s difficult to comprehend how some people survived their teen years and made it to their 20s, it explains a lot.
Sometimes people just aren’t likable. They may be boisterous, annoying, obnoxious, afraid of dancing, et cetera. But it isn’t necessarily their fault. Allow me an example: Imagine getting out a piece of paper and being assigned to draw a landscape. For some of us, the sun will be in the corner, smiling (maybe even with sunglasses on) and the horizon would be a line as straight as we could drag that green crayon across the paper.
Why? We never needed to learn how to do masterful Bob Ross-esque landscapes to get along in our lives. It’s all we know. And unless you’re looking to refine your artistic skill set, you probably won’t study how to create a beautiful landscape.
With that comparison in mind, apply it to a person. How could it be possible at all, aside from intensive study and practice, to change the way they are? Doubly so if said person doesn’t want to change. It’s nothing we should hate anyone for—most of the time—but we just have to accept it.
It may just be best to let them keep drawing that smiling sun in the corner.
10. Don’t Forget About Yourself
All of the above possibly depressing stuff aside, being an adult isn’t really all that bad.
Take away all of the responsibilities you’ve accrued since attaining this level of maturity. Imagine for a moment not having to deal with credit card bills (which reminds me…), loan repayments, rent, mortgage, car payments, meetings, all of it. What do you have?
The same damn things we would want to do as a kid. While this isn’t necessarily a call for going out and flying a kite, a bike ride, or skip work… what’s one day off?