"The most important thing you have to remember is that those people, those guys and girls who you think are so cool, who’re making you think you gotta do all those things, those incredibly self-damaging things that you will spend the rest of your life trying to get rid of, to be as cool as them - I want you to understand that maybe 1 in 30 of them is doing it because they want to, and the other 29 have convinced themselves likewise but are really doing it because they want to be like that guy. Do you understand? They’re normal people who want to be interesting. They’re boring people who think that they’re not interesting as they are now.
You, you’re different. You started interesting. You came from nothing, went through hell and back, did all this kind of crap that people like them have never even begun to think about. You lived in the places their parents told them to avoid. You defied expectations, you told all the people who thought you’d never make it beyond a small blip of accomplishment where to stick it and went beyond their wildest dreams. You had the willpower, the context, the perspective, the knowledge that this was not it, this was not all that there was. You KNOW that you ARE interesting and all you want to be is normal.
Do you understand? You were ALREADY interesting. YOU are one of those people they want to be. I want you to remember, every time you think you’re boring, that you’ve done things, lived things, BECOME things that they’re too scared to even think about, that trips them right the hell out, that they can’t even begin to fathom attempting, and that’s why they’re doing all the stupid shit you’re seeing them do right now because their lives are empty otherwise.
Relax. Your glass is full to overflowing. Theirs is empty, and so they have to keep filling it up with crap.”
- a letter I plan on sending someone in the very near future
Like being thrown off a cliff and being expected to learn how to fly
I would normally use the swimming pool metaphor, but with swimming, at least you have the buoyancy of the water to save you just in case things start going bad for you. Just take one big breath, stop thrashing, and let your body’s fat content do its thing. Flying off a cliff would be a different story entirely, and I think it’s the more appropriate image.
It recently occurred to me that somewhere in between 18 and, well, now, I became an “adult.” Up to and following my 23rd birthday a few weeks ago, a whole slew of things happened to me that made me realize, with both incredible fear and giddiness, that I was no longer the guy with idiotic youth as an excuse for my behaviour, and on occasions, the lack of it.
I recently got a new job - my very first non-contract, actual benefits holy-crap-I-actually-get-to-meaningfully-interact-with-people job in Canada. I do retail for a sporting goods store. Pay isn’t terribly much, but after the organ grinder that was working factory jobs before that, I have to say that I’m loving this a heck of a lot more.
I also got a new responsibility - a community centre, where I placed a volunteer application nearly a whole year ago, picked me up to do a little research work for them. I was told that I would be more or less in charge of how the project was supposed to happen, and I had full (reasonable) leeway in how it was supposed to be done.
What I discovered, in these two things happening to me, was that when you get these sorts of responsibilities (especially with retail at my age), you stop being the student/child and you become the teacher/expert. In the project, I had to interview a couple of people and ask them a few questions about how their program ran, what’s been working, what hasn’t, and all the usual stuff. I was absolutely terrified - would they catch on that this was the first time I did this sort of thing without the watchful caring eye of a professor? Were they perceiving me as unprofessional? Did I look like a lazy jackass? During the entire time, we all sat and talked to each other with flat, expressionless, down-to-business faces.
I asked my questions, got my answers, and answered the questions they had for me, dutifully writing down all the necessary information. After I told them that everything was concluded, one of them breathed a sigh of relief - part jokingly, but also part honestly. And that’s when I realized that there were worried about how they were coming across to ME. I wasn’t being perceived as one of the youth that they were in charge of in their program. I was being treated and communicated with as an actual adult with all the concerns and decorum that came with it.
I was an adult, treating other adults like equal adults, and being treated likewise.
It utterly blew my mind. For the past 22 years of my life, I had operated on some variant of the student-teacher paradigm. I was the student, they were the teacher, I was always learning from them and I had little to offer back except my respect. Now, I was the adult, talking to adults, and having an equal exchange of information in that context. How THEY came across to me was just as important as how I was coming across to them.
It wasn’t just the research project. At my retail job, I was hired for a very specific section of their store (their Golf department). Customers who wandered into my section would come to me for information regarding certain products, promotions, and practices at the store. As I helped out each customer in the capacity they needed, I realized throughout my workday that they were taking the advice I was giving them (more or less) seriously. Whether or not they bought something or decided to use something frequently quite literally hinged on what I thought they should know about it. I wasn’t just the “knowledgeable golf guy” that they knew, I was now “the golf expert and the person to trust with your buying decisions.” My words now had WEIGHT, and whether or not they had a good experience was on me.
These two experiences finally underlined for me what I had such an incredibly tough time understanding in high school (and for the first few years of university) - maturity and adulthood were not necessarily what you DID but what you were entrusted to TAKE CARE OF.
In the case of the research project, I was being expected to take care of their trust that I was a knowledgeable and responsible researcher who was taking all of their information and conversation seriously. In the case of retail, I was being expected to give the best possible advice given the buying concerns of the customers who came into my section. This had never happened before in quite literally anything else I had done - I was expected to do things but I was never entrusted.
I really do honestly hope that, although I was late to the party in finding this out, that I am able to keep remembering this and letting it influence my actions. I can’t afford to be the child, the passive consumer, the one-way learner. At some point, I’m going to be entrusted to use that knowledge, that expertise, to be for others what they were for me - sources of trust.
I would like to apologize for the general absence and neglect of this blog, and would like to use this post to (hopefully) explain what has happened to me since then, and to have it - on both your honour and mine - the promised duty update this more frequently. To whoever’s reading, be you one of my friends/family or anon - this post is my contract to you for content.