I was not the typical teenager. It didn’t really occur to me at the time, because I was too busy trying to be a grown up, that it didn’t occur to me the strangeness of what I was doing.
Some 13 year olds play baseball. I started a baseball league when I was 13. I found a sponsor for my team’s uniforms (he apparently knew one of my uncles…) and while we struggled to get enough players to do more than a game or two that year, it was the closest thing to sandlot ball that I imagine any of us ever played before or after that summer.
I’m not sure why I decided to do it, but like most things in my life, I stepped up because no one else said anything or because I felt like it was necessary and maybe someone would want to do it too.
My mother loves telling the story about my first set of business cards. You see, the shopping mall had a machine that would print business cards for five bucks. To me, this was the most awesome invention ever. I created cards for a company that was named after my favorite sketch on my favorite show at the time. After I started working, I gave her one of my cards (because mothers like those sorts of things) and she was excited several months later, when she managed to find one of my old cards in an old purse.
What’s the point of this blast from the past?
Well, I’ve just been thinking a lot about how I spent so much time as a kid, thinking about how much I wanted to do when I was all grown up. I suspect I’m not unique at all for this. But what I was talking to someone about earlier today, was the notion that I spent all of that feeling like it would be great to be “in control” of my life, only to discover as I got older, that — like all things — it’s a bit more complicated than that once you get a bit older.
I joke with my student workers sometimes that “growing up is completely overrated and they should ignore anyone who lies to them and tell them otherwise.” They know I’m joking, but really, I’m not.
Most people are completely unprepared — in a post-boomer world where folks don’t seem to want to move off the stage — to really take control of their lives. We hear about helicopter parents, people moving back home into their 30s and have to wonder, “Has life really gotten harder to manage or are we just coddling ourselves into submission?”
Maybe it’s a bit of both.
I left home at 19. I didn’t go straight to college. After suffering through four years of high school, I was so bored that it would’ve been a poor choice at the time. Not because I wasn’t smart enough or because I didn’t enjoy learning, but simply because I had some things to work out. So with college not on the radar and my parents not satisfied with me working just one job at the time, I’d had enough and felt like I had to go.
I can’t explain the feeling, though I recall it vividly. I just felt like I couldn’t think straight. So I used the internet in the pre-google era to find some way to get away from home for the summer. I had no money, no contacts outside of my immediate area and barely anyone thought it was a good idea for me to go anywhere. But I discovered summer camps, found a job about two weeks later and two weeks after signing the contract, I headed out west to Wisconsin and I’ve lived away from New Jersey ever since.
I didn’t really have a plan at the time. It was as simple as “where can I work, sleep and get paid doing something I know how to do?” I was hired at the camp to teach tennis, but they decided once I got there (after finding out I could write) to have me teach journalism and publish the camp newspaper instead.
Between that and the pressures of life and family that surround you, it can be really easy to drown yourself in a sea of worry and doubt. But again, I have to ask myself “if you’re going to bother living, why not just do it the way you want to?” It might require a plan and a heck of a lot of sacrifice. Yet, isn’t it worth it in the end? I was about 25 when I realized this, though.
If it’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my 20s, is that time flies and what seems miserable and hard to deal with today, might tomorrow be something you look upon fondly and with memories of how it shaped your character for the road ahead. I’ve also realized that if you’re not careful, you can get swept up into things that are much bigger than you and find yourself sitting in bed late at night wondering “where did my life go?”
While there is still lots to learn, the biggest contrast from those teen years to now, is realizing how much your choices really do matter.
Once you realize how much control you have over what you can do, it’s a matter of making the right choices to set yourself upon the path in which you want to go. It’s a hard realization sometimes and it can be difficult to find people who are in the same situation you’re in — especially once you leave college. But it doesn’t mean you ought to quit or sell your vision short, simply because you don’t know where the light switch in the room is to help you find your way.
The challenges that life presents are an opportunity to know yourself better and to test yourself within the confines of a game whose rules you did not set. Succeed in the face of whatever obstacles you’re presented will give you the strength of conviction to go forward and to be where you want to be.
The younger version of you would look with wonder at what you’re doing now, to see how far you’ve come and yet, how far you have to go. I’m always astounded by how little fear I had as a teenager. I would organize, plot and plan major events for peers from around the country. I never asked whether I belonged and had no real idea that I was doing was strange or any different than it ought to be.
Working in a university environment will sometimes make you feel old, when you contrast yourself against the students of whom you come into contact with. I don’t really feel old, though. I feel fortunate to realize that you have to reach a point in life, where you stop apologizing for wanting the most out of life. There isn’t anything wrong with knowing what you want. There is something wrong with choosing not to pursue it, only to reflect on the past and wish you had. Opportunities don’t last forever, but new ones are always appearing.
Rather than thinking about the barriers in your path, you have to think like a teenager. Think about what you want right now and how you’ll survive long enough to get it and make it so.
Reading, Writing and Big Ideas is a blog by Ron Bronson about starting a business, higher education, web strategy and life in the millennial workplace. Subscribe to the blog via RSS or email.