When you’re little you never think you’ll eventually do bad things. You never expect to anger your parents in a real, painful way. You never expect to go back on your established code of ethics, and you never expect to think you’re better off for doing so.
When I was much younger, maybe eight or nine, I kept a journal. I recently found the journal, and while most of the writing is either illegible or pointless, I found an entry that struck me as both relevant and interesting. In this entry, I promised myself that there were certain things I would never do, certain ways I would never act and a certain person I would never be. The premise was that I would never be a rebellious teenage kid who fights with my parents and makes terrible decisions.
Specific items on the list included smoking, drinking and falling for someone I shouldn’t fall for. None of these were put so eloquently in the journal, but you catch my drift. Looking back, I realize I’ve done each of these on some level or another.
I swore off smoking when my dad had cigars on holidays and family celebrations. I was under the impression one or two of those things could give you cancer and that you would almost immediately die. I’ve smoked exactly three cigars in my lifetime. I don’t have lung cancer and I’m not dead.
Watching adults drink when you’re young is a difficult concept to grasp. Why would anyone drink something that made them clumsy, foolish and downright silly? Even now I have a hard time finding a good reason for why anyone drinks, but I think it’s no surprise that I’ve done it along with most of my peers. While drinking may not have many clear benefits, I don’t think I’m a bad person for doing it.
Growing up, I had several examples of how bad things can be if you get hung up on the wrong person. What this comes down to is less of a decision, it’s something that happens to just about everyone. We all have that person we wish we never met and that kind of distain doesn’t come out of thin air. It comes from a painful experience. I’ve had that painful experience and while it hurt at the time, I can say I eventually learned from it.
While these examples were harmless, my eight-year-old self was right about one thing. I did eventually become that obnoxious teenager and that was a real problem.
I remember a time not too long ago when the relationship with my mother was so strained that I had a bag packed and ready, awaiting the next problem. In my bedroom, a canvas backpack sat at the base of my chair, containing a few necessities. On the chair were two blankets and a makeshift first aid kit – the contents of which belonged to my parents. I had planned to take the car, which was in my father’s name and leave them a portion of my savings account as payment – the one thing I had actually earned myself. I was going to sleep in my car or on the beach or anywhere but home until they took me seriously.
This ingenious setup never made it beyond the earliest stages. I never took the blankets and first aid kit to my trunk. I never mapped out where I would go. And I never had my moment where I would finally get the last word in an argument and storm out, canvas bag over my shoulder, front door slammed behind me.
I had numerous theories of how I could be a good person when I was younger, but I overlooked one clear fact: without mistakes there is nothing to learn from.
Since coming to college I’ve made plenty of mistakes, even more than in high school. But I can say that I’ve learned and benefitted from every one of them. And with the pressure of living together gone, my mom and I are on much better terms.
Even with the best intentions, set plans and a journal written by an eight-year-old, it’s easy to lose sight of the person you want to be. The only way to right this is to learn from your mistakes.
No past is spotless, no present is clear and there is no future without lessons learned.