A lecture from a momma.... I just gotta say it. Again.
What breaks my heart the most in watching teens become young adults are their suspicions that they aren't quite fitting in or their life's trajectory might be a bit off, and then this suspicion turns into an acceptable paranoia always weighing in on worthiness. Loneliness and anxiety in the "where am I going" trap them. They are frantic for signs of validity yet these are fleeting. Some tend to apply logic but in a teen world, logic is seldom used or accepted. Their value seems to be based on others' perception of who they are. They just want to belong, fit in, feel important, have purpose so when they achieve any of these things, life is a mountaintop. But perched on the mountain, the focus remains in the valley that could be. The valley waiting to welcome and encompass them. I see them frantic to stay atop that mountain, fear and hesitation clouding their vision.
If I may speak to you, I would say, with a slight smile of one who has been there, breathe deep. Relax. You are in control and you do have choices. You don't have to simply react. Who you are and where you are going are yours. You get to own them. You get to defend them. Your successes and mistakes are also yours. Please don't think of mistakes as failure. They are simply learning experiences. They do not have to rain shame on you. Own them, admit them, learn from them, and build something new. Who you are is a result of experiences and decisions. In the mature adult world, huge respect goes out to anyone who owns their own stuff. Own it. It's you. And you are building a worthy story when you live honest.
I am meant to be me. When I try to emulate someone else, I am not being me therefore robbing the world of me. God created me to be me. Just be it. Sounds way too simple right?! There is a void I fill. There is a void you fill. I cannot fill your role like you cannot fill mine. Your significance is in being simple ole' you because God, who knows everything, decided you were necessary - for little and big things.
To every single young adult, whatever mold you're looking for to fit in, stop looking. You won't find it. The perfect mold is in the mirror. Trust a mama who has rode that train. If I could fast forward your life to age 45 and then look back to show you what I see, I believe you would relax a bit. Accept a bit. Giving special significance to the big picture of your life. If I could force on you the aged perspective, you would know that I see a human being who is genuine but a bit insecure, beautiful but widely aware of all beauty, and has a few failings under that belt but wait! They are mushrooming into stunning refinement. You would adore all of who you are. Who I see you as. Who the world needs you to be - simply and boldly you.
When Cori was eight, in third grade and struggling with friendships, we had a little talk. I explained (regurgitated, actually) how humans, especially young ones, tend to put people in boxes. She stared at me, mouth open, wheels turning, absorbing. I march forward. "So we have the athletic box, and the creative box as well as the outgoing, quiet and nerdy boxes. We try to put people in these boxes so as to label their overall personality, categorize them neatly. Maybe to match up friends and shared interests better. Maybe just to exclude or include more accurately, but this is completely unfair." I explain people are way too complex to stick in boxes and it's restrictive for future personal discoveries. I admit to her that I believe others have placed her in a box so as to explain her. She's talkative and busy. She freely gives and freely takes. She's instinctive, not always thinking through each detail and step, but ready and willing to get creative. Her space is their space and vice versa, but not everyone is comfortable with this.
I asked her to put her arm out, straight out. Now, turn in a circle. This is a space bubble that most humans need. They don't want you closer and it might in fact, make them uncomfortable if you are closer than this. She's giving me this innocent, head cocked to the side, inquisitive stare. The wheels are clearly turning. I steam forward, explaining that her love of people and energy for life is perfect. Beautiful, even. I love her perspective, ability to engage strangers in conversation, how she's unassuming and incredibly uplifting. She's shaking her head "yes" and I'm feeling mighty proud of my analogy and physical "what does it look like to give someone space" example. I finish, shoulders back and ask "Do you understand?" She squishes her face, turns her voice up an octave and says, "There are boxes?" Well, crap. My mouth is now frozen open, dumbfounded at all of my wasted words. I take a mental note to ask more questions along the road next time. But this time, I think.... man, this literal, all-things-are-possible child can humble me like no other! She totally got the arm thing though so I'll chalk that up as a win.
I HATE boxes. I hate that we do this starting in elementary and they seem to get impenetrable in high school. Children need space to live and validation in that living. They are not our surrogates for all ofthe things we didn't quite get right or missed all together. They are creating their own memoir masterpiece in which we get to witness, teach, develop, and help unfold the shape within. These little beauties are beings discovering wonder and replacing known with new. Yes, they should be molded. No, they should not be you, or any other human in existence. Observe. Stretch. Validate. Give them space to discover.
The other major heartbreak of mine that I wish I could proclaim to every young person is the act of pretending. Pretending will get you nowhere. Yes, you will postpone any awkward feelings and hopefully help you create a sense of calm but everything you've just created while pretending is not real. And therefore, it simply was a waste of time. Wearing a mask only allows temporary relief from vulnerability. You morph but none of it holds up. You are simply fitting in. And only for this moment. Seriously, don't give your precious time to something as meaningless as fitting in. If you're that uncomfortable, leave. Start something new. New friends, new activities, new ideas. Just start them from a real place and all of the mature adults surrounding you, who have lived several decades, will applaud. They know you have just saved yourself from years of empty presence and have now gotten onto something worth your time, words, self. Speaking for myself, I'd love to re-do ages 17-30. I had NO clue about the power of vulnerability. I was scared to death people would "see" me and not approve.
What I've learned is that vulnerability is a skill. It is not natural. It exposes too much and leaves us at the judgment of any witnesses, so we protect it. Vulnerability can be the scariest of places. We might feel exposed, alone, and if we don't get confirmation that others understand us, we become paranoid, seeking that much harder. But given safe spaces and put into practice, vulnerability turns into a gift. In my experience, always, without exception, my vulnerability allows others to be vulnerable. And then, only then, is the beauty of your life truly felt. There is a connection at the deepest level. The problem - no one wants to take that first brave step. Let it be you.
I'd also like tomake one other thing perfectly clear. I am not a fan of perfect. If perfect is your life, vulnerability is not. I'm not a fan of all A's because in our house, all A's mean chances and challenges aren't being taken. Good grief, learn to deal with an A- or gasp a B+. I'm not a fan of status quo because, in our house that means someone else's opinion means more to you than your own. I'm also not a fan of romanticizing any one thing or person because that almost always means consideration for something different is ousted. Something different could be exactly what needs to be admired.
So, ask yourself. Do I create boxes? Am I pretending? Do I own all my stuff? Am I going somewhere but observing along the way? Am I willing to be vulnerable knowing I'm choosing my own pure story?
And now you get a very small picture into the window of parent lectures in our home. You might be sighing a big ole' breath of relief of having not endured one of my "go get 'em!" lectures. That's okay. I get it. My own babies spew this nonsense at me often. I don't listen. My mission is to be the voice of courage, tangible explanations and practiced vulnerability. If they live what they learn, we're all good.