20 isn’t really better than 40

Adults telling teenagers that they’re in the best years of their life always struck me as kind of gross, especially if the teens in question weren’t having a particularly good time.

Something recently made me wonder… do people say that because they didn’t have stress as a kid, then have no joy in their middle-aged-ness, or at least not enough joy to counterbalance paying bills?

What detail is missing that supercedes everything else for these folks?

Anecdotally, I had a very positive high school experience. I was good at being a student, had good friends, was involved in a variety of activities, and am generally sentimental about a lot of it.

Despite that, you couldn’t pay me enough money to go back and do it again, because I highly value autonomy, and I didn’t have much.

I suppose the harbingers of drudgery could simply have very different life experiences from mine.

They definitely have different mindsets. To tell someone who is 15 that the next few years (maybe even 10?) are amazing and the 50 or more years after that are terrible … seems both terrible and fortunetelling in a way that they really just can’t.

Also, I’m a much better human being now than I was 30 years ago, even if I was a pretty decent human being then. I’ve grown and broken and healed and learned and adjusted and adapted and surprised myself for better and for worse. I have often wondered, though, how many people skip the growing part and just get older.

Another piece is: times change. People spouting off about idealized adolescence tend not to be very well tuned in to the current struggles facing teens. I’d be willing to wager those people aren’t very well tuned in to anyone.

Are there things I’m dealing with now that weren’t issues 30 (or even 20) years ago? Absolutely. For the most part, they feel bigger because they’re current. I’m not sure today’s problems would win in a side-by-side comparison.

I have to exercise and I have to stretch and I can’t see quite as well and decisions feel complicated and kids don’t make anything simpler. But decisions were always hard—even if condescending people looked down on them—and figuring out what to do with my life and getting other people (college admissions, employers) on board with the plan was stressful, and I really didn’t know who I was or what my voice sounded like and I had no idea what I didn’t know.

It’s been a haul, but I know who I am and what I want and I have a voice and am absolutely afraid to use it but do anyway, and that’s a pretty good tradeoff for reading glasses and needing to stretch.

Which camp are you in?

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