Sometimes we uncover wisdom in the most casual of conversations. And today was one of those days.
Growing pains. The stress of the body and mind when we are about to transition into a new stage in our lives.
Our first tooth, our first step, puberty, high school, college, and now the uncertainty of life after the bubble that is the American education system.
All of these steps were followed by tremendous stress and fear of the unknown. The incredible journey to acquire the necessary skills to cope with the new environment. Whether that is a new school, a new perspective, or new knowledge. These steps are always difficult. And it is only in hindsight that we agree that these steps were not only necessary, but “not as bad as we thought”. And this hypocrisy from a rosy reflection of our past irks me deeply. Especially when older mentors reflect on their time when they endured your current tribulations and only offer a smirk and the condescending mantra of “life is way harder than that so you better get used to it”. And these empty and hollow words which offer zero comfort, and zero amounts of insight into dealing with the current stress is not their fault. It is foolish to think that the older generations would offer the secrets of dealing with some of life’s greatest challenges. And as I reflect, it is easy to be bitter and accuse them of hiding these keys from the present generation suffering the negative effects of the economy and post-education, but they lived in a different time. With the current generation, we have access to more amounts of information, and with the world shrinking through social media and modernization, the level of competition for a finite amount of jobs is ever increasing.
And with articles in the New York Times speaking of the increasing application rates to top universities, which are inevitably followed by historic rejection rates, it is easy to simplify the world around us by saying it is “getting tougher.” But herein lies the crux of the issue. Each transitional step is scary and anxiety-ridden because the tools that you possess at the time are often inadequate or useless for the next step. And this terrifies you. It terrifies me at least. And just as science describes the process of muscle development as being a process where painful micro-tears from training are replaced with more muscle fibers for greater strength and sustainability, so too must our lives endure pain to experience growth.
The Army Slogan, “Pain is weakness leaving the body” sounded so cliche when I was growing up. But as I keep enduring more and more challenging transitions in life, I can relate to this slogan being as close to a truism in life as any other. And as I attempt to comment on past transition steps, I know that I will be guilty of having rose-tinted views of my past but I will attempt to do so regardless. The previous transitional steps which were painful in my life include the stress associated with first encounters with leadership positions, relationships, family responsibilities, money, and most of all intellectual growth.
Intellectual growth was particularly interesting for me because as a younger man, my life was structured around me. The subjects of knowledge which included social studies, science, english, and math were intellectual frontiers. And my method of absorbing this knowledge was simple. I just took it for face value and tried to memorize, synthesize, and regurgitate the information that I received. But as I grew older, I realized the fallibility of data, and the human flaws in systems which are paramount to understanding the world around us such as physics and mathematics. This next step in knowledge was especially traumatic for me because history was no longer a recollection of facts but words crafted for the benefit of the victors. Science was no longer a firm and rigorous producer of truths, but a fallible well oiled machine which is placed on top of fundamental assumption of observation, logic, and reasoning. Mathematics was no longer a tool for uncovering truths about the world around us, but instead one of the most beautiful constructions of human fallibility, language, and arrogance. And the study of literature was no longer a place to receive a cultured view of the world, but a place where humans have yearned for immortality through the written word and a place where people in the past have tried to leave a life’s work of knowledge for future generations to build upon.
And as I reflect then on my present transitional step between the university, and the “real world” I cannot help but feel similar shifts in my intellect and outlook on life. Because as a young adult, the real world was supposed to be a place where I try to match the requirements for jobs, do the job well, get paid, and live my life. But instead, now with two years experience outside of school I am seeing the complex web of deceit, nepotism, and dysfunction that is the American workforce. At the risk of oversimplification, I will bisect American jobs into two categories, the first being the producers and the second being the creators. In capitalism, you are either following the rules or creating them. And it is comforting being a producer because you have to trust in the system which is allowing you to eat, live, and enjoy life through monetary and, if you are lucky, spiritual nourishment. As a creator though, the world is revealed as being a frontier of no laws, and no rules. As a creator, the rules can be mended, broken, and discarded if the justification is strong enough and the charisma behind the will is persuasive enough. As a creator, the sheer terror of realizing that a system which is supporting thousands of people not only monetarily but spiritually is in the hands of so few can either be ignored or serve as a powerful motivator. As humans we desire certitude because it gives us comfort. And religion provides this certitude for many in this world. Science is an obvious candidate as well, especially because the certitude of science’s methodology has yielded miracles such as medicine, transportation, and shelter. But once it is accepted that certitude is a ruse created and imposed by creators in society, it can get bit unsettling to realize that we are just Marxian cogs in the well oiled capitalist machine.
And yes, this post may have devolved a bit to sound like a typical rehashing of conspiracy theories such as that of the Illuminati. But I am just trying to express my thoughts and emotions on transitional steps in life, and talk less about why these transitional steps exist and where it is taking us. Instead, the growing pains from each step are horrifying, humbling, and extremely gratifying in the end. But it is only in hindsight that we appreciate the growth and the new individual that we have become. The newly acquired skills in language, thought, and perception can truly be a transformative experience. And what is life without change. Life without change is death.