What’s reflective and adaptive in the short run may carry the highest price tag over time. ~ Harriet Goldhor Lerner, PhD
Dear Young Rebel, I see you.
I see you with my old woman eyes. I know the lies you tell because I was once young and told them, too.
I was old enough to do what I wanted and fool the fools.
I didn’t realize the one I was ripping off was me.
I skipped much of high school or found myself sick with the flu, and even though it was true, I missed out on a slice of life I can never get back.
I barely graduated high school, not because I was dumb, but because I thought I was too smart to play by the rules.
Kids who went to class, did homework, or listened to their parents’ advice seemed weak.
Not me, I was strong.
I do what I want! was my motto.
The truth is I was lost and scared. I didn’t know what I wanted or who I was.
I was (and still am) a rebel.
When we’re young, it seems everyone is running the same race. As the years pass, the trajectory of actions and consequences spreads wider.
It’s revealed in careers, homes, travel, marriages, and a myriad of things that require time and attention.
Maybe you’re so smart you won’t listen to me or let this be anything other than some dumb adult thinking she can tell you anything when you’re an adult yourself and you already know, right?
The only reason I’m saying anything is because I wish somebody would’ve pulled me aside, realized I was just trying to make my way, and helped me make better choices. Nobody did.
Or, at least I didn’t hear them, like you might not hear this. And, that’s ok.
And yet, when I look back, I wish someone would’ve said: You can do this.
See, I thought everyone was saying I had to and that alone made me not want to. I thought the hard work and school stuff was for them.
I doubted anyone’s sincerity that anything good was meant for me. Nobody understood what I was going through. Or, so I thought.
I’m not telling you I totally get you. I’m saying I care and you can do this.
You can stop fighting against what could benefit you.
You deserve a good life.
But no, you spoiled little brat, it won’t be handed to you.
Ooh, right there, I bet that pissed you off. Now, do you want to be all self-righteous, like Who the hell does she think she is?
Here’s who I am: a grown woman who was once a spoiled brat.
Now, I’m old enough to admit it. I admit it wasn’t the world or my father who were so hard on me; I made things hard by trying to get away with doing things the easy way.
This is not a condemnation of you. It’s the concern I wish somebody would’ve shown me.
I see you. Can you see yourself?
Can you see what I couldn’t when I was your age, but is so clear now?
Can you look at how you’re living and imagine the kind of life you might be creating?
I know how smart you are and what a rebel you can be. It’s awesome!
However, combine that with misused freedom and you might just run yourself off a cliff.
Can you see how you could be hurting yourself? You know when you move out of your parents’ house, they won’t go with you, but you will?
Your thoughts and ideas. Your money habits. Your work habits. Your ways of getting along with others (or not). It all moves with you.
You create it. Then, you own it. It’s your life.
I’m asking: Do you like the one you’re crafting?
Well, I’m not really asking because I see you and I know.
I see you avoiding life and responsibility because it seems so hard.
It’s difficult to imagine, but it’s actually easier to go to class, do the work, study for the test, and go to the job than it is to avoid and fib (especially to yourself).
Gosh, if I could give you that one truth and you believed it, it would be a springboard in your life. It could save you years.
But, maybe you’re like me; you’ve got years to waste.
If so, keep at it. You’re on track.
If you want to follow in my footsteps, please, at all costs, refuse to invest yourself in anything that will actually matter 5-10 years from now.
That’s how I didn’t truly become a student until I was 37 years old, when the pain of not having a degree caught up to me—financially, sure, but more the screaming in my soul.
See, I only had excuses while other people lived with real reasons for not finishing school. They couldn’t afford it, were working two jobs, got pregnant, or just weren’t smart like us.
Actually, back then, I thought I was dumb. Nope. I just didn’t go to class.
I later learned: attendance changes everything.
I didn’t know that then, like you don’t now.
Like you, my parents paid for almost everything in the early days and I blew it all. I blew the money and I trashed the time.
Of course, you won’t blow it like I did. Yeah, that’s what I said.
For three years, I played at college, majored in partying, skipping classes and collecting my dad’s checks as if he owed me and I was getting back at him for his lack of achieving my standards of the kind of father he should be.
I missed the examples around me of people my age building successes, despite having harsher disadvantages and fewer opportunities.
I spent money on pizzas, margaritas and good times. I threw money around like confetti while wiser students juggled jobs, attended classes, clubs and sporting events, and still made time for fun.
I fumbled everything. Don’t be me.
I know, you say you won’t (because you’re smart). That’s what I said—when I dropped out of college “for a semester” three years in.
I chose the easy route and it was anything but easy later on.
I couldn’t see how fast the years would stack up.
I see you, young rebel, calling yourself an adult while doing childish things.
I hear you saying you’re smart, but acting otherwise.
I see you dancing and crafting manipulations, but more importantly, I see you miscalculating the consequences you’re setting yourself up for.
It’s not trouble from your father you should worry about. I know, like me, that doesn’t worry you at all.
The worst kind of trouble is that of your soul when you let the gifts and opportunities you’ve been given slide.
All the blame in the world won’t make your life belong to someone else.
Our souls know the truth even if it takes decades to catch up.
I traded too many years for cheap thrills while other gals and guys gathered degrees and built lives of purpose.
I told myself I didn’t care. I told myself it was just a piece of paper.
Occasionally, I even chanted the victim’s cry, “It’s not fair!”
No, it wasn’t fair that I didn’t show up for class or work or life and expected the same rewards as those who did.
See, life is fair in its unfairness and sometimes the things we get away with today we pay for in the long run.
It wasn’t my father’s actions or attitude which shaped my life. It was my mine.
As time passes, the stories that matter most are the ones we tell ourselves.
When we hold back, we’re paving a path we might not like walking later.
In our teens and 20s, it’s ok to have little money or work retail and restaurant jobs. But trust me; it’s not a thrill in your 30s.
Choosing jobs like that is fine. However, some folks just get lost, and then get stuck.
I see you, young rebel and I hope you don’t get stuck.
I hope you’re not like the guy who says he won’t run out of gas, even though the gage says empty and the light flashes. He keeps driving until what he denies becomes reality.
I was that guy. Well, that young girl playing at life and pushing the limits for the sake of proving something, maybe that no one could control me.
The thing is I didn’t control myself. I didn’t take responsibility. I didn’t go to class. I didn’t plan, study, and prepare for a better life.
I wasted money because I could. I wasted years of my life.
Somehow, I thought I’d be missing out if I did the responsible things and I was too cool for rules and damn if I’d let anyone tell me what to do.
When I look back, I wish I could grab my young hand the first time I didn’t go to class and went to a movie in the middle of the afternoon with a friend and no one said a word.
I wish I could make my young eyes see that friend didn’t have a father like mine paying the bills, so she worked that day and every other. The movie was a treat she gave herself for acing a test, not a way of life like the one I was living.
I wish the young rebel I was knew that when I lied and told my boyfriend my math class was cancelled at 8:00 am every Friday, he still went to class, loved me, had fun, and did his homework. So, he earned a degree.
I see her now, the young rebel I was, having fun. She’s a little sad.
I see the woman I am now and I’m happy with my life.
I don’t have regrets, so maybe you won’t either.
You’ll find your way, as I did.
You might find, like I did, the shortcuts aren’t.
Young rebel, I see you. You’ve got this. You’re smart.
In fact, you’re smarter than me, aren’t you?