Last week, my meth-knowledgeable peer John Cheese established that the teenage years are usually awful and life generally gets better. Now, let's break down that timeline a little more. When you're 18, you can vote. When you're 21, you can drink. And when you're 25, you can rent a car. But what do you get for turning 30? Well, the quick answer is: "hit on by chicks with daddy issues," but you deserve better than a flippant response.
If you clicked the link that took you to this article, then you're probably over 30 and hoping for some good news. Or maybe you're under 30 and reading this because you're curious about things to come. Actually, it's also likely you're just some crappy teen killing time while you wait for your testicles to descend. But whatever the reason, I stand by my original statement that you deserve better.
Oh, and yes, I know those numbers up top are very U.S-centric so there's no need to leave a complaint in the comments. We're all aware that the legal drinking age in Scotland is now 8, and that when you're 14 in Azerbaijan, you qualify for your goat herder's license.
Moving on ...
When I was a little boy, I was in awe of grown-ups, and I honestly wasn't sure I had what it took to navigate the adult world. I would watch my father shave in the mornings. I'd study the way he tied his tie, and how, like all the other commuters, he knew just where to stand for the train doors to open up. And that was before his job even began. I was sure that when my time came, I'd end up lost in Times Square, needing to give my name and phone number to a policeman.
How ironic, then, that I now have less respect for adults than almost anyone I know. Or actually, I guess it makes sense. I spent so many years trying in earnest to lead a successful life that I've discovered a great truth. Are you ready? For anyone worried about their future, please cut this out, laminate it and carry it around with you:
Believe it. I've been there, and I can tell you just about no one knows what they're doing. This applies to everyone. Doctors, lawyers, IRS auditors, sanitation workers, foreign ambassadors, politicians, game show hosts. I promise you. Nearly everyone is faking it or phoning it in. That's good to know -- not just so you don't get malpracticed on or hit with an incorrect tax penalty -- but for your own sanity. You're not as good as anyone, but odds are high you're right in there with 97 percent of the world. And if for some reason, you want to take the time to do things right, well then good for you. You'll be in rarified air.
The longer you live, the greater the odds you will get to see the teacher who wrongly deprived you of that scholarship grade you desperately needed have a massive cardiac event, falling down a flight of stairs, and kicking and twitching in a tremendous amount of pain until she dies. See? Getting older can be fun. Especially, if you try not to be too aware that you and your loved ones are also getting closer to that fate. But hey, let's stay positive here. You get to see bad people die.
Actually, I don't mean for this entry to seem as small and petty as I'm pretending (because it's fun, and because I'm a terrible person). Let's take a step back. What I'm really talking about is living long enough to see some residuals on karmic justice.
For example, perhaps, you once lost out to a competitor who cheated. And then you spent the next five years growing increasingly bitter about your loss. How great would it be to see your foe disgraced for continuing in his cheating ways? Sure, there is a certain delight in your enemy's misery. The Germans call it Schadenfreude, because making up words is one of the two things Germans are known for and the other one they don't like to talk about. But the best part about your enemy's downfall is its ability to restore your faith in justice. What goes around comes around. You reap what you sow. All that.
Life will challenge you to keep growing without being consumed by cynicism. And one of the biggest obstacles to meeting that challenge is seeing small terrible people reap the rewards of their bad behavior. If you live long enough, however, sometimes you get to see their wickedness catch up and bite them in the ass. A small reward, but one that will help keep your idealism alive into the decade that follows.
Grade school Gladstone thought he was good at everything. After all, I did well in grade school and I was a pretty decent second baseman. By junior high school, however, I started to realize I was more of an English/history guy as opposed to math/science whiz, and that the Mets weren't scouting me. And as I grew older and gained additional schooling and work experience, I was eventually able to boil down my greatest strengths and weaknesses -- meaning I could finally answer that miserable interview question I've never been asked. And here they are: I'm very good at seeing the analytical connection or logical breakdown in data, but, unfortunately, I can't proofread for shit.
Why is that so great? Well knowing your weaknesses is good because you can take corrective action. For example, each week I threaten my colleague Seanbaby with an ass-beating unless he proofs my column. OK, not the best idea since Sean's like a gold belt in Space Judo or something*, but the point is, at least I can try to do something about my shortcomings. (Also, I think I have a 50/50 chance of taking Christina H. in a fight so all I have to do is tweak my plan slightly and all will be well.)
*Editor's Note: Sean is actually a brown belt in Space Judo, but it appears gold as Sean has decorated his belt with sequins, rhinestones and glitter.
But it's even more important to know your strengths because as you go through life, you will continue to meet people desperately hoping to advise and define you: You're a good writer. Your prose sucks You're a born leader. You're more of a worker bee. You're well-endowed. You have weird junk. I love when we're having sex and you do that thing with the thing. For Christ's sake, never do that thing with the thing again!
People will never agree. They'll never define you in the same way, and that's why it's so important to know yourself and have a baseline of experience. So you can separate the valid criticism from people just talking. Because most grown ups are as good at giving advice and summing up the glory of you as they are at their jobs. It's best to get a consensus.