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5 Things They Never Told Us

#2.
One Year, You'll Have Your Last Summer And You Probably Won't Even Realize It

"Ooh, I'm 15 years old and my life's the best. There's a school year, but then a summer, and it's awesome because I have three full months to do whatever, and this will never, ever change, so I might as well not spend a second thinking about it."

The Reality

Unless you're a teacher, one day you'll stop getting summers off, and you'll never get them back. It seems like such an obvious, intuitive point, but if it hasn't happened to you already, I guarantee you it'll take you by surprise. As much as you can say "Sure, clearly one day I'll have a job that won't give me Summers off, that's the way life goes," it's different once you're actually doing it. It's not just about having time off, or being able to go to the beach in the middle of the week, or being free from responsibility. It's more than that. The school system conditions you for two full decades to believe that your life gets divided up into chapters. A chapter ends when a school year ends, and then you can decide "Okay, it's a new chapter, it's freshman year of college, so it's time for me to be a new me now." And when that chapter ends, you become an even newer you, (which, in college, usually just means you but with a terrible goatee).

"We're not in high school anymore, guys, I'm a new man. I have a goatee, I tell people I'm in a band. It's pretty great."

It's actually a really handy way to organize your life, to be able to say "The theme of my eighth grade year was playing a lot of Dodgeball and getting really into Comedy Central's Battlebots," and "I felt like Junior year of high school was really the year of chasing girls and doing literally nothing else," and "Sophomore year of college was all about really figuring out who I am, and what makes me tick and, in a much broader sense, lots and lots of weed."

One day, that will stop happening forever. Your life won't be divided up into years, and your years won't be divided up into semesters and winter breaks and summer breaks. Your life will just be the work that you do. You'll turn around one day and realize that, while it's technically Summer, Summer is technically meaningless. You're still going to the office or factory or lab or spaceship, Monday through Friday. Summer will eventually bleed into Fall which, while it's the start of a brand new semester for some, is also meaningless to you. Apart from the weather, there's no difference between the Summer and the Winter, it all blends together, work, family, weekends, in the continuous ribbon that is your life. And most people don't even realize they've had their last actual summer until waaaay after. You're so concerned with finding a job after you graduate, you lose sight of the fact that a job means no more long stretches of total freedom.

One day you'll just have a job. And, if you're successful at your job and you don't get fired, you will never have three straight months off again for the rest of your life.

#1.
You're An Idiot

You're constantly bombarded with information. As a student, your entire day is spent moving from one room to another and getting pelted with facts about everything, that is your entire existence. You sit there while someone tells you about American history, and when that's done someone tells you about Marine Biology, and then you move on and someone teaches you Spanish, and then the bell rings and someone else teaches you calculus. You cover what, to a twentysomething, seems like an impossible spectrum of information, every single weekday. So surely you must know something.

The Reality

Here's what's going to happen. At one point, you will honestly believe that you have every single thing figured out. You reach an epiphany where you understand yourself, you know what you want to do with your life, you know what kind of woman or man you're looking for, and you've figured everyone else out, you're a good judge of character. Exactly two years later, you'll say "Man, I was an idiot two years ago when I thought I had life figured out, but now I've REALLY got it figured out." You'll calm down a little bit and look back on your youthful ignorance and laugh. "How could I think life was all about [X] when it's CLEARLY all about [Y]? So young."

Two years later, you'll do the exact same thing- scrapping all of your old, childish assumptions in favor of your current, brilliant assumptions. In fact, you'll repeat that process every two years. Life, from what I've gathered so far, is largely about looking back on your past self and realizing how stupid you were. And you'll keep convincing yourself that, even though you were clueless two years ago, now you've got it figured out, until you finally reach a tipping point, and then you'll say "Man, I was an idiot two years ago, and two years before that, and two before that, so- you know what? Even if I think I have things figured out, I'm probably an idiot right now."

The boundlessness of my own stupidity is the most important lesson I have ever learned in my entire life.

So many people will read a book or see a movie and think "Yes, this is what the world is about." And then they'll go to college and take their first Philosophy class and think "No no no, THIS is what the world's about." They'll read a lot, and talk a lot, and come up with theories about fucking everything. The person who hasn't yet realized what an idiot he is loves coming up with cute little theories, they love making rules and putting together little categories of human behavior. Walk into any college bar, strike up a conversation with a twenty-one-year-old chick, and I guarantee you that, at one point in the conversation, she will say either "I believe there are six kinds of people in the world, and you fall under the category of [X]" or "Oh, you like [random inconsequential thing]? I have a theory that anyone who likes [random inconsequential thing] is also the kind of person who [broad, sweeping generalization that attempts to sum up your entire, complicated life into a single sentence]. You can tell absolutely everything about someone by their [taste in music/favorite Beatle/fucking shoes or whatever]."

"You're a dog person? That means you're a selfish lover and you hate communists and your favorite food is ham and you'll die alone."

I did it too. I would ask everyone I met the same, hypothetical question and, depending on what their answer was, I would convince myself I had them completely figured out. I did this because I was and am the dumbest person on the planet.

But, really, this is all okay, because everyone else is too. You'll reach a point when you stop trying to compartmentalize people, and you stop trying to figure everything out. You'll still grow as a human, but you'll be much calmer when you settle down and admit the fact that "Hey, I'm just an idiot who does... things."

Because, no matter how you dress it up, that's what the world is. A community of idiots doing a series of things until the world explodes and we all die.

Happy Weekend, everybody!


Special thanks to Charley, Soren, and Utako who indirectly helped research this column by having what I'm sure they assumed was just a friendly conversation with me.

For more lessons you wish they'd taught you, check out The 10 Most Important Things They Didn't Teach You In School. Or for the things we talk about instead, check out DOB's look at 5 Things You Love to Discuss That Nobody Else Cares About.

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Daniel O'Brien

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