COMING OF AGE: my perspective

Second place, column opinion writing

Painting+of+a+man

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

My childhood was average. I wouldn’t say it was ideal. I feel like now, at 16 years old, I should have some semblance of control over where my life goes from here. Do I really?

There are about 7.7 billion people on the planet today. As a teenager in America, I’m expected to begin some sort of journey toward independence. I’m supposed to get my driver’s license, get a part-time job, pick a college and a job. That is the ideal course of action.

In school we were taught about these coming of age rituals from communities around the world. Jump over a cow naked or jump off a cliff, and now you are a man.

Society is an incredibly complicated thing. It is incredibly intricate and delicate. It scares me. There are so many things expected of me. My family expects me to stay close and take care of them when they are old. My cat expects me to feed him. The government expects me to pay my taxes and vote and follow the laws.

So we follow the laws. Except we don’t.

In childhood, you learn which rules to break and which ones not to. You learn how you are expected to act. You watch and copy for fear of being laughed at.

Then, you get older. I got older and I got siblings and I got responsibilities. I did the best I could to handle them, from fear of failure and fear of ridicule.

Fear was my coming of age ritual. Developing anxiety and awareness about how I was perceived and judged helped me to grow up. Had a panic attack and now I am a man.

Society probably doesn’t see me as that man. Society is still waiting for me to grow a mustache and pick a career. But what do I care about what society sees? I know that I grow up every time I tell myself the truth. Society thinks it deserves the truth, but seeing as it lied to me for seven years about Santa, it can wait.

You, as a child you are taught not to lie or to cheat, but then you see it happening all around you, being done by everyone that you trust. You tell yourself that you can’t hold everyone to the standards that they set. You grow up.

You, in the context of your country, are told that those in power are holier than thou and that you should trust them. Then you learn that George Washington owned slaves and that the government spends most of its money on the army, and the army kills people. You tell yourself that you have to question your supreme leader. You grow up.

You, in the context of your world, are told that you are special. Then you realize that there are so many more people on this planet than you, and that each one of them is real and deserves a chance at living a whole life. You tell yourself that you have to be careful not to hurt others. You grow up.

You, an American teenager, don’t have a set idea of a coming of age ritual. You do have things that you must realize in order to “grow up.” Here, it is not a physical feat that endows you an adult, it is an emotional one. You will never grow up until you are honest with yourself. You can lie to everyone around you, but be honest with yourself, because only then will you finally grow up.