Impossible to Understand
Sometimes, when I think about who I was as a teenager, I shake my head. That was one weird dude. He was likable enough, had good hair and great friends. I think he even managed to do some pretty amazing things at times. Still, teen aged Ryan spent a great deal of time being afraid. He was afraid of other people, places he was unfamiliar with. He was very afraid of his future, and did his best not to think about it much. Then again, he laughed more than he cried, which means he had more good days than bad ones. In the end, he was raised by good parents who let him be his own person.
That’s me there, on the left. The handsome rogue on the right is one of my best friends, (still, to this day. How cool is that?) Joel Reynolds. This photo was taken just before we graduated from West Jordan High School. I remember feeling so damn grown up, like I had finally arrived. Funny, the things we think we understand.
I am not the kind of person to swim in regret, and though I made my fair share of mistakes, all of them (along with my successes) brought me to this place, this me. I like this me. Then again, whose to say I wouldn’t like a different version of myself, one who made different decisions?
I wasted most of my educational opportunities in high school, choosing to be content with mediocrity. Because of that, I found my options significantly limited when I decided a university education was something I desired. I could attend the local community college, or nothing. I ended up really loving my community college experience, but I wish I had been able to choose between several options, rather than have one forced upon me. I think it set in my mind that I would always have limited options. That sort of thinking allowed me to believe I had to take the first jobs offered to me. When it came time to look for other sorts of work, I could never see myself as qualified for positions I really wanted. I worked blue collar jobs (which I don’t regret, they taught me valuable skills), because I thought no office would hire me. If Sheryl hadn’t convinced me to apply for the library job, I certainly would have missed out on that opportunity.
I watch my own children as they try to navigate through early adolescence. They tend to treat school the same way I did. Their grades are currently a great deal better than mine ever were, but they are below what they are capable of doing. Like everyone I have ever known, they exist under the same misguided belief. They cannot see beyond the current place they find themselves. Where they are, who they are, what they are doing, will always be this way. There is no future, just now. Sure, we all vaguely understand the concept of tomorrow. We may even think we know that years from now, things will be different than they are today, that we will all be older, changed, but I’m not convinced we really believe it.
If I could do one thing for my 15 year old self, it would be to give him a tiny glimpse of how temporary any particular moment really is. I like to believe if I could let him feel, even for ten seconds, how different he would be in a few short years, he might understand his present better.
Sometimes, I find myself talking to my boys, trying to convince them of this very thing. I tell them to not limit their opportunities by not giving their best efforts now. So much of their adult lives depend on the decisions they make today. They nod like they understand, but in their hearts, they believe tomorrow will be just like today. I don’t doubt they know what my words mean, but there are some things that only time teaches. I am certain my 65 year old self will look back at this blog, this moment and say, “If only you could take your own advice.”
I wish I could too.