In the last 12 years I have watched young people, mostly my peers and younger family members, fall into all sorts of traps as a result of a series of bad decisions.These decisions need not have been made if people were a little more careful and sober. They have now resulted in unplanned pregnancies, drug addictions, poverty, disease and broken hearts. I don’t think any of us were trying to mess up; we simply failed to manage the ‘growing pains’ of our twenties.
Our lives are a wonderful journey of self-discovery, but if the process isn’t managed, what starts off as self-discovery can quickly become a reckless ride to self-destruction. The journey is often thrilling but there are pit-stops; key moments when you can change pace and direction if it starts becoming too risky. Sadly, paramedics are often called to the scene because what started as mere play resulted in the death of one’s dreams, self-identity and even physical death. There is a fine line between tolerable excitement and mortal danger. I’m familiar with this process because as a mother of toddlers I make such judgments often –
‘Is it a non-threatening infection or could this be meningitis?’
‘Do we treat this at home or do we rush to the E.R?’
When you’re young, however, judgements like this are incredibly difficult to make. It turns out that a young person’s brain is only really fully developed around age 23, which explains why we don’t make great decisions in our youth. So yesterday, whilst nursing my teething baby, I realised that there would be many more growing pains for my kids, even if I raise them well. I do believe there is a way to help them navigate those times. So I sat and thought of the things that helped me, that could possibly help them too:
1. SHOW UP.
If you have a job and it starts at 8am, just be there at 8, whether you feel like it or not, whether you went drinking the night before or not. If your family or girlfriend expects a call from you at 8pm every day, call them. Just do it. Predictability in your life may be boring, but it’s your hedge. Sometimes it’s your strongly entrenched routine that draws you back when you might otherwise end up doing drugs into the wee hours of the morning, or go on a weekend away with a guy you just met!
2. BE ACCOUNTABLE TO SOMEONE
You don’t have to go and ask someone to be your accountability partner. What I’m talking about is more a disposition. Adopt a willingness to answer and account for your life and decisions to the people around you, they are your hedge. “Jeez, John. Your eyes are red; are you okay?” “Dude, where were you last night? Did you go home with Thabo?” Or when the lady at reception says: “We missed you in the office yesterday. Where you ill?” These are not questions or statements to be offended by. These are signs that you live with people who pay attention because they care. Being open with them allows any sinister patterns in your life to be identified and arrested while there is still time.
3. BE HONEST
Tell someone the truth. “I quit my job yesterday”, “I don’t have any money but I have started applying and I have an interview next week.” Don’t wake up and get dressed for ‘work’ every morning. You will have to make some awful decisions to keep your charade going, decisions which push you closer to the line. When I say honesty, I also mean self-disclosure: “I’m gay”, “I found God”, “I wont’ be pursuing what I studied – I’d like to be a Chef instead”. Living a double life will get you into more trouble than you think. In my life, personally, these three principles have created very little room or time for destructive habits because I always had somewhere to be (showing up), an answer to give (accountability) and I put great value in being true – to myself and others. So if I wanted to act out, I had to do that in between all of that and that was extremely difficult.
Does this make sense? Or is this the idealist in me speaking? I’d love to hear your thoughts.