Why do we waste any one stage of our life wishing, hoping, or trying, to make it like another; each stage has its time and its purpose, but we only get one shot. Live for the moment, enjoy the things that are only available, possible or even acceptable, in that moment…and then move on. Get everything you can out of the stage that you are in, it will only help you in the next, but you have to be in the moment you are in if you don’t want to miss it. Before you know it, those moments were your life. Remember, it’s not about how much time you lived; it’s about how much you lived during your time.
Recently I sat through an assembly in my son’s middle school where we were given a folder full of papers with names and descriptions of, not only classes students could take in High School, but suggested clusters of classes for various career paths. The catch was…you pretty much needed to have it all figured out by Tuesday. Suddenly I felt a wave of anxiety wash over me. I automatically started looking through the papers and wondering; what should he take? What if he takes this and then decides he should have taken that? Can he take them all just in case? Etc… Just then I turned around to look at my son, sitting several rows behind me with his buddies, and I noticed that they weren’t even listening. My first reaction was to be annoyed, but almost simultaneously, I had to laugh. He was just acting his age, living in the moment with his friends, not stressed out about what he was going to be when he grew up, but simply trying to get a little balled up piece of paper into another boys sweatshirt hood a few rows ahead.
Instantaneously I felt concerned by the assembly. How is this helping our society? Why are we encouraging children to focus so narrowly on their future instead of what might benefit them right now? I mean….I get it, it’s the “way things are” and I commend our school for preparing our children for that harsh reality, but could there be another way? Who is benefiting from the current “way things are”? Do kids seem happier? Are addiction rates or drug abuse down? How about school shootings or the suicide rates of college/university students or young adults? Do the “way things are” seem to be working very well to you?
Sitting there, I felt like I was witnessing an example of the out of control social pressures on our kids that have now become “normal”. We are picking a “career path” in 8th grade… If in 11th grade a child realizes he made the wrong choice, or changes his mind about what he wants to be when he grows up, does he risk making his transcripts look bad and take the opportunity to try something new? Does he value the learning he received, even if it was simply discovering what he didn’t want to do, and start in a new direction? Does he push those feelings away and march forward to achieve the goal he set simply because he has already come this far? In 11th grade is anyone encouraging him to think about how much happier he’ll be in 5, 10 or even 15 years by changing course now? To think about what his gut is telling him? Or is he being informed about how much better completing the courses will look on his resume etc.…? What if he has been doing well in these classes? Who will advise him that it’s ok not to continue even though he’s good at it? Will human nature deter him from wanting to “throw away or waste” all the time and energy he has spent getting to this point?
What does it mean to “waste time” anyway? Especially time that has already past. If it’s already past, and you gained something from it, is it possible for it become “wasted” at some point in the future, or is that just a matter of perspective? And if its perspective, can’t we change it? I think so. To me, when we stop listening to our own inner voice and let ourselves be controlled by the voices of “others”, that’s wasting time; that time is your life.
What if life is just a bunch of experiences and all we are supposed to get is what we learn from each one of them? (Versus a big job or paycheck etc.…) What if we looked at each moment as precious in itself and merely tried to get the most out of it rather than just using it as a stepping stone to a “better” future moment (which may never come).
As I sat in the assembly, I couldn’t help but wonder, when did we become more concerned with teaching our kids what to think then how to think? When did it all change? No wonder kids seem so stressed out today; not only do they have to deal with the out of control peer competition on social media, but they also have to compete for their position in life as an adult as well. When are they supposed to just be that awkward, in between, not a child or an adult, hormones taking over my body, teenagers? I can’t imagine feeling all that pressure and not yet having enough life experience to have the tools to deal with it. I have to admit, I suddenly couldn’t even hear the speakers, all I could imagine was a huge factory; with our unique, individual, creative children on a conveyer belt going in one side, full of life and laughter, and coming out the other side as robots. There were are few different makes and models, but basically just little adult robots with all the childhood sucked out of them, never to be seen again. An entire stage of life…gone. It was heart wrenching.
When we got home I asked my son what he thought about the assembly. He told me that he “wanted to take cooking and art”. When I asked him why, he said that he loves to cook and he loves to eat, so it seemed “awesome to be able to do both during the school day”. Regarding art, he said he’s always loved art but has noticed that if he doesn’t take it in school, he just doesn’t do it anymore. He said he really likes learning new drawing techniques and drawing is something he has always loved. WOW, proud mom moment! My son wants to make sure that he continues to do and enjoy something that has made him happy for as long as he can remember…talk about “out of the mouths of babes”. Ok, so he definitely didn’t listen to the assembly, and he may not be able to complete the engineering or business track with these electives, but he will be reinforcing a habit of “making the time to do what makes you happy”. I believe a happy, self-confident individual is at least as capable of accomplishing whatever they set their minds to as someone who is just really good at following a curriculum. Besides, isn’t the whole point of “achieving our dreams” to be happy? What good is a great job and a large bank account if you’re miserable? If you don’t learn how to be happy NOW, in THIS moment or stage of your life, how can you expect to be happy later? Will you even remember what it feels like?
I’m not suggesting that I have all (or any) of the answers, but, I do know that my child will only be as young as he is now. There will come a time when he has no choice but to act like an adult, and it will no longer be appropriate for him to act like a teenager, so why not let him be one now? A toddler can poop his pants and its ok, by letting them, eventually they learn not to so that when they are in school they use the bathroom. When we are in elementary school we might throw sand at other kids. This is normal, but we quickly learn that we don’t like it when they throw it back, so we learn not to do it before reaching the upper grades when that behavior is no longer acceptable. As teenagers we may stay up too late and not be able to fully function in school the next day. This is typical and usually we just get a few extra hours sleep when we get home, but we have learned the consequences of our actions first hand so that, a few years later, we are less likely to repeat our mistakes when our jobs are on the line, and so on…
When did we stop appreciating the stage we are in and become “OK” with letting it pass us by while we work towards a “better” one? Why do some of us wait until we’re old to want to be young and others spend so much of our youth trying to be grown up? I’m sure it varies but, I feel as though we first step onto that treadmill somewhere in the mid to later years of elementary school; wishing to be just a little “older”, more “grown up” and given more independence. I’ve noticed that somewhere around 50 many people start to step off that treadmill and realize where they are, wonder how they got there (and sometimes why). The more I spend time with older people, 75 plus, I hear mixed reviews: some wish to be young again, to be physically able to enjoy the simple things in life like running, playing and rolling down a grassy hill. Others, unfortunately, have told me how grateful they are to have been young when they were because they couldn’t imagine living with the pressures of being young today. That always saddens me, probably because I have young children. But then I think, maybe, just maybe, the pendulum has swung so far in this direction of fast times, that it will soon start to head back the other way.
Maybe there is a whole generation of us that have spent some of the last 30 or so years with blinders on; striving for certain goals, filled with determination and absolute disregard for alternate possibilities. Now, having achieved our goals, we realize they don’t make us happy. Some of us may have recognized that we were heading down the wrong path along the way, but we kept going because other people told us we should, it was relatively easy, or maybe because we’d already invested so much time/money that we couldn’t imagine “throwing it all away”. Somehow we convinced ourselves that it’s better to waste our future time than to waste the time already spent, but does that make any sense? That time is gone…, the only time we have is now and our future. Do we have to be anything “less than happy” in our future because of our past? Maybe we can use that past, not for what we “accomplished”, but for what we learned from the experiences (thereby making all that time invaluable). Perhaps we can help teach the next generation the importance of living in the moment you are in, listening to and trusting your heart, and living your life. Can we lead by example?
“Society” is just a bunch of people; WE are those people. If things in society are not working, it’s up to us to fix them, one person at a time. A lot has changed over the last 30 years with the advancements in technology etc. The speed at which we do everything has increased dramatically; it’s normal to expect some growing pains, but now it’s time to adjust. One thing that has not changed is the amount of time we have at each stage in our life. My mom always told me that every season has a reason, and I believe that’s true for each “season” of our lives. Each has its own unique set of possibilities for a reason and no one is more/less essential than another. What can you do now that you weren’t able to do in a previous “season” of your life? What have the seasons past left you with to help you grow? This is your moment to make the most of NOW, and share what you know with those younger than you. You are “society”, so if you agree that some changes are needed, it’s up to you to start today! “Be the change you want to see“. No pressure 😉
p.s. You’ve probably heard the saying, “If I only knew then what I know now.” How do you respond to that? What would you have done differently? Why? What do you wish you knew? This is your moment to pass that on to the next generation, to make the difference you wish someone had made for you. Perhaps that is the reason you had to learn the “hard way”, to be the one who makes that difference for someone else. Someone has to start the change…why not you?