5 Things They Never Told Us
Given the opportunity, there are probably a lot of tiny, superficial things you say to your fourteen-year-old self, (Get a haircut; Stop being a smartass; Maybe try not masturbating for, like, a night, and see what that does to the amount of free time you have). Small things you wish you'd known, because they would've made middle school, high school and whatever comes after slightly easier.
There are also much bigger things, things about life and growing up that someone damn sure should've told you about.
You Don't Become An Adult, You Just Suddenly Are One
When I was younger and looked that I considered to be adults, I had a number of various feelings, depending on who I was looking at. Respect and awe, for those who seemed to know everything. Contempt, for some authority figures with whom I had a whole lot of pointless, adolescent trouble. Pity, for the few who, to me, "just didn't get it and never would, man." Even though my specific opinions changed from person to person, they all fell under the same umbrella of characterization: this person is an Adult. Some are worse than others, but they're all in the same general class of Adulthood, they all know how the world works, they've all undergone whatever fundamental change one eventually undergoes when one becomes an Adult, and they're all operating on a much different level from me and everyone I knew. They've taken the test, or they've seen the light or whatever it is you do when you get promoted from being just a dude to being a Man.
Certainly you're not an adult, because you're just wandering around, still trying to figure out how life works as you go along.
There's no test, there's no light, and there's no tangible event that signifies the transition into adulthood. You don't enter an organization of adulthood. There's not, like, a guy hanging around at your college graduation who comes up to you and says "Now that you're an adult, here's all of our secret knowledge about existence, and how to live as a functioning human outside of the school system."
"Since you've graduated I can legally give you this box, which is just FULL of all of the rules that govern life and existence."
There's no class or test or paperwork to sign. One day you just realize you're a person who pays bills. You're a person who signs up for a club card at your local grocery store because, "Oh, I might as well, I'm there so often." You're a person who gradually is getting less and less familiar with whatever's going on in pop music. You can vote and rent a car and get married and have kids, and it's not weird, it's normal.
You're an adult, and no one told you.
And you don't fundamentally change as a result of this realization. You don't gain new knowledge. You don't feel like an adult, you don't have everything under control. You're still dumb. You're still the guy who, a few years ago, was probably sleeping in a full bathtub in college, because you were out of blankets in your dorm room and it seemed like the only logical way to stay warm through the night and, yes, that is a thing that I did. You're the exact same person, except suddenly society has thrust you into the Adult category.
You wear and look awful in suits.
Remember when you were a kid and you saw adults as all-knowing authority figures who had shit figured out? As the people who were allowed to tell you what to do and make rules, because they were the ones who were running the world? That's what kids think when they see you, even though you're an idiot.
Getting married doesn't mean you change as a person and instantly gain a bunch of previously concealed knowledge about life. You get more responsibilities when you have a kid but, really, you're still the exact same person you always were. Because, here's the thing, no one makes you take a test or fill out a form to have a baby, you just have one. You can do that right now, and then you'd be a parent. Your parents never went to parenting school or passed a series of complex physical challenges, they just had you.
The state will just let you have a baby tomorrow, no questions asked. Hell, if you want a gun in California, you have to fill out an application, take a safety test, sign three forms, and then wait ten days, and after all that they might not even GIVE you one if you've got a history of mental instability. Meanwhile, you are legally free to make your own baby army, this second, because that is a thing adults do, and adult is a thing that you are. You don't have to take a test or sign any paperwork to have a baby, you can just make one.
As great as your parents were/are, and as much as they seemed to have it all figured out, you might be shocked to discover that they were making it up as they went along. Just like you.
Almost Everything You're Doing is Absolutely Meaningless
Middle School's important. High School's important. You need to do well in High School to get into a good College, and then you need to do well in College or... or something something something, your life will be terrible. I was never clear on the specifics, I just knew that there was a direct correlation between my GPA and my total cumulative happiness for the rest of my life. A higher GPA means the best people will hire you, having "Summa Cum Laude" written on your diploma will make women more attracted to you, getting a 1500 on your SATs will make you less fat, etc. The Dean's List must be important to your future, or why would it exist? Surely someone down the line will be impressed to know that you made it all four years, right?
The only skills you really need to learn in high school and college are how to socialize and be a functioning human in society, because that's the only thing you'll be consistently doing for the rest of your life. It's a really strange system, because when you graduate college, no matter what you studied, the only thing you're really good at is being a student, because that's the only thing you've been doing regularly for 22 years. Studying, memorizing stuff, being able to eloquently bullshit about literary theory- You've got that shit down. The weird thing is that every skill you've mastered as a student? No one will ever ask you to use them again.
"Okay, the new clients are going to be here in an hour, I need one of you to write a five page report on Beowulf through the lens of Feminist Theory."
College is important, but what you study? Not so much. Focus on learning how to be a human, and focus on networking and meeting the right people, because they are much better at hiring you than your GPA is. Professors and Deans and your parents will stress that your grades are important, but I guarantee you that, as long as they were good at their job, no one in the history of time has ever been fired because of their GPA.
I'm slowly starting to realize that there's very little connection between whatever people majored in and what they end up doing, (apart from obvious specialized fields like medicine and engineering and so forth). And I might be wrong, because I'm an idiot, (see entry: 1), but I'm only going on personal experience. There are five full-time Editors at Cracked.com. At one point in all of our time here, we've all had basically the same job, (writing, editing, managing writers, maintaining a stable of sexually daring women, counting our giant money piles, etc). Of this group of Editors, there is not one instance of overlap in terms of what was studied in college. Same site, same job, but no two people graduated with the same major. We all ended up here not because we studied while we were in college, but because writing and editing articles for a comedy website appealed to all of us, even though that particular class wasn't offered in school.
We've also never compared GPAs. Why the hell would we?
You'll Never Have as Much Time, Energy, Or Excuses For Doing Dumb Shit Than When You're 14
"Being in high school sucks, you're stuck in a classroom all day, and things are boring and everyone smells bad and puberty's uncomfortable and boners all the time and this is the worst thing ever."
If there is one thing I could tell myself at 14, it would be the title of this entry. Because it's true. At 14, you're not legally allowed to work in most states, school is a pointless breeze and you have nothing to be stressed about because you're not paying bills or fighting in a war and no one depends on you for anything. You just have boundless energy, and a stupid amount of free time and no accountability whatsoever. Please don't waste it sleeping in class or dicking around because, in a few years, you won't have time, and a few years after that you'll have even less time, and a few years after that you'll have no time, no energy, and almost everything will hurt in uniquely humiliating ways. You'll stop thinking "Do I feel like doing this fun, stupid thing," and you'll start thinking "I want to do this fun, stupid thing, but I'm also worried about what kind of impact staying up so late is going to have on my delicate sleep schedule."
I don't mean this to be one of those whiny, "Youth is wasted on the young" articles. Don't get me wrong- growing up is the best. Last Tuesday at midnight, I drove to a grocery store and purchased and ate an entire family-sized bag of those Twizzler Bites that I like because I fucking dare you to stop me. No one's arguing that life, in general, gets more awesome the older you get, (and, while you have more time for fun at 14, you're certainly much better at fun when you're 24). I just feel like instead of trying to prepare our 14-year-olds for high school and college and life, we should feel obligated as humans to let them know they have a window in which to do ridiculously stupid things for a year, and that window will never reopen again. Teachers know that 14 is the last age of socially acceptable stupidity, so why are we even trying to give kids any kind of structure?
Look, I know being a teen is the most difficult and misunderstood thing in the world, but for fuck's sake steal a car or climb a mountain or something.
Sure, you'll trade youthful energy for money, the ability to drive a car, and experienced, thoughtful boning, but at 14, you can go for days without sleeping and you can eat McDonalds burgers by the fistful because human metabolisms develops in a karmically unjust way, and soon that'll go away forever.
Oh, that reminds me.
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."
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.
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.
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 when it's CLEARLY all about ? 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 " or "Oh, you like ? I have a theory that anyone who likes is also the kind of person who . You can tell absolutely everything about someone by their ."
"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.