The desire for happiness and freedom is at the root of everything we do as human beings. This is something I’ve been lucky enough to always know on a distinctly conscious level–something that has admittedly caused me great angst over the years. But angst was never caused by my desire for freedom and happiness–it was caused by a pervasive belief that attainment of those things was very difficult, if not impossible.
If (god forbid) one were to find an old notebook of mine from high school, one would read endless pages of verbose rejection of (or on a worse day, resignation to) the status quo. I was obsessed with the fact that my life seemed predetermined, even in “the land of opportunity,” with teachers saying I had “such promise!” and that if I went to college I could be anything I wanted to be… anything, of course, except for a professional writer (feel free to substitute “artist,” “actress,” “dancer,” or any other difficult-to-break-into creative field. Teachers, parents, and even some “friends” all had the same thing to say). It seemed to me that in order to survive as an independent adult (have food, clothes, shelter, etc.) it was inevitable that I would have to go to school for four more years (and I really can’t express to you how much I dislike the current educational system), then eventually find myself a job that would be wholly unsatisfying, take up 8+ hours of my day and monopolize my week, where I would either submit to management or end up twisting myself to achieve a position of slight authority. 1
I’ve always had a problem with authority. Not in the sense of “don’t tell me what to do, bitch!” but the concept itself. Who gives who authority? In the case of public (and really, also private) education, some bunch of adults get together and decide who’s in charge of what, then they run a few hundred children through the system and tell them “show some respect, you must obey her, she’s your teacher/parent/principal!” And lo, the attempt at conditioning begins.
That’s not kosher. No, I can’t offer a better idea of how school should happen (especially in a society where more money is spent on the thus-far unsuccessful war on drugs every DAY than on education in a YEAR), but one suggestion is to show more respect to the children we’re trying to serve. Maybe adults should try earning respect instead of demanding it? I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve met or heard about who were less responsible, more selfish, and utterly unfit to raise children compared to their ten-year-old kid. And adults wonder why teens are so disrespectful and combustive.
But, back to freedom and happiness. Not only is everything we do motivated by the desire for those things, but every single person on this planet has a right to them, so long as they are not trampling the freedom or happiness of another person (and those things should never depend upon another person… but that’s for another discourse). In the past few years I’ve come to understand this on deeper and deeper levels, until finally, a few years ago, I stopped believing in my sealed fate of status quo, and started believing in myself.
Slowly unfolding, from plateau to plateau, I’ve become empowered. I’m twenty five years old–I’ll be twenty six in May, the day I launch my first officially published novel. And it saddens me to say that I’m one of the lucky ones. I didn’t wake up when I was forty, or fifty, or sixty, or DEAD, and realize that I didn’t have to play by their rules–that their rules are arbitrary, that we’re all just humans, living our lives and shaping our world, and most importantly, that I am equal–we are equal, to all.
It saddens me, also, that it took me 25 years to realize those things, but looking at where I’ve been has never helped me get to where I want to go.
If I could say one thing to the angry, hurting girl I was back then who felt so trapped by a world I hadn’t made, and to all the children bristling under confines of other people’s will, it would be this:
The only thing that matters is what you think and feel. Make the most of that. Believe in yourself, love yourself, trust your instincts. They will never, ever lead you astray. On an adventure, maybe, but never astray. Look for the beauty in others, and try to forgive those who do not see the strength and wisdom and beauty of who and what you are. When they cannot see it in you, they are not seeing it in themselves, and that is something to be healed, not punished.
What would you say to your younger self if you had the chance?
1. Ugh, just repeating that here makes me sick to my stomach. I can forgive myself now, as a relative adult, for the what-seems-like-maudlin despair I entertained as a teen. If I still believed what I just wrote above, I would have given up a long time ago and probably lost my mind.