Friday, August 18, 2006

You Can't Go Back, But You Can Go Forward

Several commenters on my post Top 10 Things I'd Tell My Younger Self pointed out that they agreed with the tips, but didn't think their younger self would have listened. That's a point that I've often wondered about. Would I have listened to good advice at the time and avoided making some of the mistakes I've made?

Many of us go through our teen years and into our twenties convinced that we are right and that most of the others around us are wrong, especially those in authority over us. We believe this despite the fact that many of us also feel quite insecure about ourselves and our abilities, most especially in those vulnerable teen years. Why are we so certain that others are wrong when we're so uncertain about our own selves?

This is a good question. It seems to me to be a common form of projection as well as the influence of popular culture. It can be seen as projection, or projecting our own thoughts, feelings and motives on others around us, in the sense that we may think that everyone else is just as confused as we are. Or, we may simply doubt that anyone can be so certain they're right when we don't feel like we have a clue. This could just be human nature at that stage of development.

Popular culture has for some time portrayed adults as being uncool or lame. The idea of youthful rebellion has been entrenched in our culture since at least the sixties. Certainly it's not a new concept, but it has been enshrined and immortalized through music and other media in a very pervasive and indelible way. Movies and television shows are full of examples of young characters teaching their elders a lesson.

With the pressure of natural human behavior and popular culture, would I have listened to good advice? For me, and probably for a lot of people, I think the answer is both yes and no.

There have been times when something looked so appealing to me and I was convinced it was the right path, but there was no advice to make me think twice about it. An example I've used before is when I was told by my high school guidance counselor I'd have no problem in engineering college even though I was failing calculus and physics my senior year. If someone I'd respected had pointed out to me the obvious, that I was really struggling with math and science, but breezing through english and spanish (and really enjoying both), there is a chance I would have listened.

Had I known how difficult things would be for me in my first year of college, I probably would have changed my path right away. In retrospect, sometimes that sage advice that would have changed our lives just wasn't there when we needed it. Maybe we were unable to face reality and be honest with ourselves or others around us and so those who could have given us that worthwhile counsel never even knew it was necessary.

In all fairness, though, there are many other situations in which I'm convinced that I wouldn't have listened to good advice and didn't, when it was given. When poor choices were driven by high emotion, it would have been (and was) extremely difficult to overcome those internal forces. A good example would be relationships. How many of us have dated someone our parents and/or peers thought was completely wrong for us? Most of us heard the advice, but thought we knew better and went ahead with making our mistakes.

There may have been some times when we would have listened to some advice and probably many others when we would not have and indeed, didn't. Would our lives be different now if we had, and, most importantly, would our lives be better? There's no way to tell. The experiences we've had have created the people we are now. Ultimately, without those painful mistakes and misguided choices, we might not be the people we now are and some of the things we value most in life might never have been.



Anonymous Steve Leigh said...

We have to be in the right place and time to listen to the advice given. If it's the wrong place or wrong time, we tend to ignore it.

Some of the best advice I've received, I didn't understand until years later... :-)

8/18/2006 08:05:00 AM  
Blogger Ray said...

Steve, you couldn't be more right about that. I probably should have said something more directly about the timeliness of that good advice...

8/18/2006 08:10:00 AM  

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