When you’re a kid, it seems like life is in control, all happening according to some plan. With everything so new and exciting, you never stop to question anything around you. Someone is always making decisions for you, deciding what to do each day—where to go, who to meet, what to eat. Your happiness, in essence, is a product of your environment and those who make decisions for you. We spend a good portion of our childhood fighting for independence and the right to chart our own path. Life is filled with great things like our favorite ice cream place and the waterpark, the only thing stopping us from getting there is our parents or some authority figure. There comes a day when we’re old enough to create our own experiences. The people once in control of our lives are there but are no longer the limiting factors they once were. Victory! The world is ours for the taking! … Right?
Well as it turns out, by the time you reach this stage, ice cream and waterparks are no longer the cornerstones of happiness. In fact, there are no cornerstones at all. We always felt that if we could do whatever we wanted, there’d be no limit to the fun. But even upon being granted the independence we so fervently desired, we still aren’t saturated with joy as we’d once thought. While hours of video games and all nighters once sounded like a dream come true, we find the things we once adored no longer making us smile. So what now? Apparently life doesn’t just provide experiences and excitement, we have to make them ourselves.
Such was my experience in the last few years. I suspect many of you reading this have experienced high school differently but my high school experience was very much one of growth and responsibility. “With independence comes responsibility” my mom would tell me. I always saw this as making smart decisions and looking out for my own wellbeing when I was out on my own. What I didn’t realize is that responsibility means so much more. When you’re finally of age to make your own decisions, not only are you responsible for your safety, but you’re also responsible for your own happiness.
Gone were the days where I could pin my boredom on my parents. Every wasted day was now a result of my own inability to make things happen. This realization sat in my stomach like a stone. It made me feel excited yet lonely knowing nobody was going to make life exciting for me. I went through a period of denial, wishing I were still young and naive. Life had moved too fast and I wasn’t as ready as I’d thought. All of a sudden I saw self direction as a burden and not a blessing. I and nobody else was responsible for making my life memorable.
I still haven’t completely made peace with that idea. I’d be lying if I said I succeed in living every day to the max. There’s always more one could do with their time. That being said, one can always strive to live to their utmost ability. Remembering that with each day I grow older, I aim to rest my head each night knowing that I made use of the life I was given. Whether it’s trying something new like baking or acting on a whim to run somewhere far, I live my life knowing my days are finite. Through all of the hard times in my life, I’ve reminded myself that I get one shot at this life and that’s not an opportunity I’m going to waste. In the hardest times I remember that whatever struggle I’m experiencing will fade and probably won’t matter in a few years. What matters is whether I let that obstacle stop me from living my life.
Growing up and going off on our own is something we all experience at some point or another. The impossible contrast of pure excitement and sheer loneliness is indescribable. But one thing I never let myself forget is that life is a gift. One that beats us down and makes us hurt, but also one that crosses our paths with amazing people and places. If ever I miss the carefree days of childhood, I remember the vastness of the world we live in and that most of the greatest people in my life I haven’t even met yet. For any of you like myself who may feel overwhelmed by the relentless forward march of time, I encourage you to embrace this responsibility to live thoroughly and use it as an opportunity to begin writing your own personal story of life. Ask yourself, how do you want to remember your life when you’re older? Think long and hard and the answer may change you.