a long spring break, a long good spring break, and one with a lot of time
for thinking. Whether riding in the car for hours, lying in bed at night,
or doing the sort of manual labor that doesn't really engage your head,
I had lots of time. You'd think that I, being the sort of person who thinks
about things constantly, wouldn't find this new or interesting. But there
was something-- maybe the quantity of time, maybe the distance from familiar
surroundings, maybe something else-- that was tremendously refreshing
about it, and that compelled me to look inward at myself in a way I haven't
really done in a long time. Not thinking about what other people think
about me, or how I interact with other people, or anything else. Just
And one thing I think I've come to terms with for the first time in many, many years, is that I'm not a completely mature human being, and I don't have to be. And letting go of that assertion, which in some ways I've gripped very tightly for a long time, is necessary for me to be able to grow and to live my life the way I want to live it.
Somewhere in my teenage years, probably very early in my teenage years, as I started to butt heads with my overprotective parents, I realized that if I was ever going to convince them that I was responsible and mature, I had to believe it fully myself. This was certainly no problem for me. I had the 14-year-old's confidence that I was just as capable, smart, mature, ready to handle things, as any adult around (and certainly my parents!). Like most teenagers, I suspect, at the heart of all adolescent struggles with my family was their suggestion that I didn't know as well as the "grown-ups" how to deal with whatever situation was at hand, and my assertion that I most definitely did, that I was already a "grown-up." I absorbed this all down to my core, and believed it with all my soul. I could do anything, handle anything, just as well as any adult or anyone else. I had no more growing to do; accepting that age and time might make me more mature would be giving in to them.
Emotionally, too, I felt I was as mature and balanced as anyone could be. When at 15 and 16 I experienced for the first time truly close emotional relationships, I took the depth of feelings that I was experiencing as indicating that I was able to have mature adult relationships with people. I took the fact that at that age I was probably more emotionally mature than average as evidence that I'd reached the endpoint, grown up. And so when I ran into problems with those relationships, I took the problems to be intrinsic to who I was as a person. "There's something wrong with ME." Not with the patterns in which I interact with people, not with the way I relate to people. Just me. This led to a lot of sadness, a lot of loneliness. But it was an incredibly persistent outlook on friendships (not to mention romantic relationships)-- I remember a number of conversations with one or two closer friends to whom I could confide my loneliness. They'd tell me, "Yes, Britt, people like you." "But they don't like me as much as they like other friends of theirs." "Well, Britt, maybe if you spent more time with people, maybe if you talked more while you were together instead of being so quiet all the time, maybe if you called people on the phone more..." But I'd conclude it was useless. The problem was who I was, not what I did, so why make the effort? It would only hurt more when I was inevitably rebuffed, because I obviously wasn't and couldn't be the kind of person who others cared strongly about.
College is a profound change, a transition point, a whole new kind of life. Yet the changes in my life seemed to cement my outlook and patterns and personality, not to change me. Being far away from my parents, being able to do what I wanted whenever I wanted, being able to have an ATM account and a credit card and control my own spending, being able to ride the el by myself and board planes by myself, having power over my time and my life, was thrilling and enjoyable, but only a confirmation of what I'd been asserting for years. "See? I'm mature. I'm competent. I can do this." And the emotional ups and downs, the joys and pain of friendships and relationships, were confirmations of the good and the bad in who I was, not opportunities to change and experiment and develop.
And so I look at myself today, at age 20, and I don't see so many differences from who I was when I was 15. Have I grown, matured, changed in the past 5 years? In some ways, yes, but none particularly profound. Some patterns have become more entrenched, others have faded somewhat, but not much more. I've thought of this before, in passing, but it never particularly struck me as odd. I think I just patted myself on the back for being so mature at such an early age that I didn't need to go through the bother of changing as a person. I didn't think there was anything wrong with it.
But now I think I'm finally ready to say that there is something wrong with it. It's not healthy or right to impede my development and growth that way. And it's a convenient excuse to deny me responsibility for my problems and weaknesses. I need to jettison that excuse if I'm ever going to change the things I don't like about myself. Teenagers convince themselves they know everything and are completely mature. I need to grow past that so I can grow in other ways, to recognize that my whole life will be a process of growing and changing, and where I am in life now most of all. I need to let it go.
Patterns are patterns, and habits are habits. They're not ME. The way I emotionally let myself depend on other people is not some tragic flaw in my character-- it's something I've been in the habit of doing in my life so far, and it's something I can change once I realize it's changeable and kick myself in the ass and actually do it. The ways I procrastinate and put things off until the last moment and leave my room a mess are not me-- "I'm just a lazy person"-- but are life-long patterns, ones I have complete free will to affect. I don't have to tell dirty jokes if I decide I don't want to anymore, or be excessively picky or bitchy, or interact in certain ways with certain people. I can read more slowly and deeply, I can decide to work on developing the ability to write humorously instead of accepting that it's something I'm naturally incapable of, I can learn to be an improv actor if I want to instead of reminding myself that I'm intrinsically horrible at it. I can learn to kick two of my most persistent and deepest problems, curiosity and jealousy.
Sure, patterns and habits aren't easy to break. It takes work. But that fact shouldn't obscure that it's completely possible to break them. There are ways that I know that I need to grow and change in my life. And there will be more ways I will discover when I'm open to them. I'm taking responsibility for my life in a way that I never have before. And one of the great plusses of a journal like this is that I can put this down in print, solid words, published in a way. I'm ready to kick myself in the ass and make some changes, maybe more significant changes than I ever have before. It's a big help to have it down in black and white, and it doesn't hurt that perhaps some people will read it who will call me on it if I slack off. (Not that I'm denying my own responsibility to keep myself from slacking off!)
I'm twenty years old. I need to remember that. Twenty years, despite the flashy two at the beginning, is pretty young. Being twenty means I need to grow and mature and learn new things and new ways of interacting with the world. It means that instead of saying I'm not good at things, I can say I'm not good at them yet. It means I don't need to feel like I "should" know (which I always have felt, despite everyone telling me it's still early) where I'll be living and what I'll be doing and who I'll be with for the rest of my life. It means I can feel comfortable and excited about openness and uncertainty and unanswered questions and diverse options for my future, instead of reaching for and being soothed by certainty and stability.
young. It's okay to say that. And it's okay to grow and change. I'm ready
7 December, 2002
Intellectual Property Rights denounced by Britt Gordon-McKeon, 2002