I hope that as you move forward you will have triumphs and successes, that you will explore the world, that you will learn and grow, that you will bust out of that confining, crushing straitjacket that you call your comfort zone. But more than anything else, I hope that you will be happy.
You are at one of the major crossroads of your life, moving from childhood into adulthood. You will be making many important decisions over the next few months and years, what classes to take, what major to declare, what clubs to join, what jobs to take, where you choose to live… But the most important decision you make is not what you choose to do, it’s who you choose to be.
In order to survive as teenagers, we often have to put a shield over our hearts in order to protect ourselves. We lock the vulnerable parts of ourselves in a closet, our warmth, gentleness, kindness, compassion, affection, thoughtfulness. Our open-heartedness. Our ability to love and be loved.
Instead, we learn to use the parts of us that keep others at a distance and keep us on top, the arrogant, unkind parts that protect us from getting put down by others. In the teenage world, the meanest guy, the one who cares least about other people, is often the top dog.
But things change as we become adults. The same strategies that worked for you as a teenager will often backfire for you as an adult. If your only goal is to accrue power and wealth, they may be helpful, but what if you want more than that? What if you want to have true friends who genuinely like and care about you, who will support you when things get tough? What if you want to have supervisors and coworkers who respect you and like having you on their team? What if you want to have a partner who sees who you really are and loves you more than anyone else in the world?
If you do, then those distancing, arrogant, self-protective strategies won’t work. People who put others down, who talk about others behind their backs, who do their best to make others feel small, don’t do well as adults. Teenagers often suck-up to them, but healthy adults avoid them. People don’t want to work with them or be around them. Partners get hurt and leave them. They end up…lonely.
So what does work?
Having the courage to take the locks off the closet and let all those kind, warm, affectionate, considerate parts of you out into the sunshine. Opening your heart. That’s what works. Use your wisdom, of course. Don’t be a fool and just throw your heart open to anyone. Learn to discern who is trustworthy and who is not. Some people aren’t, but don’t let that stop you. Find the trustworthy ones and let them see the real you, the beautiful being that you really are, underneath all those protective layers. Let yourself see how beautiful everyone else is. Look underneath all the protections and see who they really are. Let yourself love with your whole heart. Let yourself be loved.
Open your heart. It’s the only way to be truly happy.