What are some of life’s greatest lessons that you learn from when you are 10 to 20 years old? Thoughts from someone who was 10 in 2010 and is 20 in 2020.
I suppose love is one of them. Most people have their first crushes during this period. Some people have their first real love during this period. And what do we learn about love? That it can turn people bitter. That it transforms people. But perhaps most of all, that romantic relationships reveal our truest nature and our faults to ourselves. Maybe that’s why everyone says you need experience. Because you don’t really know what you would be like in a relationship until you’ve tried.
We learn that some of our friends are that kind that make their relationships their whole lives, who disappear into their partner. We learn that many of our friends, more than we think, are hopeless romantics. Maybe it’s all the rom-coms and ads we’ve been fed. We learn that some of our friends aren’t as nice as we think. Their morality might even be a little questionable. They cheat or play with girls’/guys’ hearts without regard. Remembering about how one friend told me proudly how he broke up with his girlfriend of some 3 months the day before New Years. Made me rethink his security — the way he said it and laughed. We learn that a lot of people can’t commit; first loves have their way of worming themselves back into our minds; and everyone has a lot more baggage than you think.
Another great lesson is emotional and mental maturity. Girls are generally more emotionally mature than guys at every stage between 10 and 20, based on numerous scientific studies. But teenage girls and guys face unique problems, together and separately. Both are prone to mental illnesses. Many people can’t count on two hands the number of people they’ve gotten to know who are actually mentally healthy. Anxiety, depression, anorexia, bipolar, OCD, etc. You name it, someone’s got it. And some girls already face sexual harassment and assault in this decade. Even more do by 25. We learn that it takes hard lessons in life — seeing things — to become the people we are. Broken homes, imperfect parental relationships, death, loss, suicide. These are the things, the realities, that continue to impact us for life. We see things too young, and we either feel so alone we withdraw within ourselves or we become desensitized because it feels like it happens to everyone so we shouldn’t speak up or acknowledge how much it’s affected us. This decade is when it happens and we remember it most.
Change. We learn that we are capable of it. We learn that we have to deal with it. It is a part of life, and those who do not try to deal with it, get swept under the waves by it and are left to fend for themselves in their minds cyclically. Change sometimes makes us feel worse, we learn, or doesn’t make us feel as much better as we would have liked. Whether it’s a permanent scar, a “phase” we don’t want to remember, or any physical transformations, this is also the time we learn the power and futility of it. We try to lose weight. We put on makeup. We lose the glasses for contacts. We buy the latest trends. We try to fit in. We slowly begin to accept ourselves. We find our group of friends or begin to take baby steps towards finding and being okay with ourselves. And many of us learn to do this on our own, whether in college, in the real world, or through travel. But in the end, we see change all around us and within us, and it makes us more forgiving.
Some of us are lucky to already learn about dolce far niente. The sweetness of doing nothing. We learn to take comfort in the few nights we get to spend with our parents once again, reconnect with high school friends, wondering how we once wasted away hours every day so easily. Many of us now can’t stand not being busy and have to learn what it means to take care of ourselves and to cut ourselves some slack. The purposeful ones learn what it means to be by ourselves. The lucky ones learn to drive and get their first taste of independence — and responsibility. Towards the later years, we realize what it means to have our own interests, separate from what was predesignated in the community or by our family. We look at those a decade older and wonder what we’ll be like. Will we be as miserable or successful?
We realize what it means to have our own beliefs and priorities. Many question what we have been told, whether it’s the religion we have been brought up in or the ideals we should live by. For some, who have been told success in academics will ensure success in life, we learn that there is more to school than grades and that the social relationships we build often leave a deeper impact. For me, a lot more of what I learned in college came not from the classes but from the organizations I joined and the people I have met. With time, we also learn our priorities can change, and having one priority versus another doesn’t make us worse or less family-oriented. It’s natural, and we learn to accept it.
We struggle. We learn the beauty of close (read: real) friendships. They become our support system when family becomes too distant to understand. We learn that not everyone has to remain in our lives to leave an imprint, and that friends will always come and go. People will always come and go. We are exposed to conflict and how illy prepared we are to deal with it. I learned that silence/just not talking about the problem is rarely the answer. It doesn’t go away if you ignore it. But somehow, so many of us were brought up this way. Family secrets/the not-so-perfect parts are unearthed, role models’ dark underbellies are revealed, and the world seems scarier, sometimes even doomed. But we also see our friends or even people in the news find strength despite all odds, and we instill some of that strength within ourselves.
What else do we learn? That we can be related to someone but not have to love them. That we don’t have to be our parents if that’s not what we want. That passion and money seem to the world harsh opposites but also when combined, the ultimate ideal. That chasing dreams is not possible for everyone. That we have to put in the work for what we want. That our social identities will make how we navigate the world different for everyone. That we might have been too sheltered. That we don’t have to want marriage or kids or anything else society pushed onto us. That nothing is the end all be all. Not where you go to college — you can always transfer, not where you start your first job — you can change your career (I’ve seen many friends do it), not where you are now or who you are now.
But mostly, that there is so much we still don’t know. And that we don’t know what we don’t know.