L et's set the scene.
You’re 16 years old and life is pretty tough. Things are moving fast. Truthfully, you’ve got a lot going on.
Someone who you thought was just a friend has recently been giving you vibes and you’ve been thinking about how you can let them down nice and easy—if they decide to make a move. And then there’s that other part, the thing about you actually liking their friend and you’re pretty sure their friend likes you back. So now, if you go after what you want, it might cost you a friendship. Heck, you might lose that friendship anyway—again, if they decide to make a move. Oh and your parents, though they’ve been divorced forever now and everyone should be used to the arrangement and moved on, they continue to send shots at each other, through you and in front of you, wanting you to take sides, whenever the opportunity for ex-warfare presents itself. Grade 11 Math and Science are proving to be much harder than you expected and you’re not sure if that whole STEM career thing is the way to go anymore. You swore at your gym teacher for being a bit of an ass. You won’t stop replying to your ex who you actually wish would stop texting. You keep showing up to practice—pick one, drama, basketball, dance—late. You can’t keep up with your DMs. Yesterday, you forgot to pick up your little sister after school…
Basically, there’s a lot.
You’re 16 and all of a sudden your plate is full. You have tough choices to make and you’re flubbing it all up. All. The. Time. So secretly, sometimes you wish you could just close your eyes and wake up ten years from now, when you’ll be a proper grown up who has it all figured out.
Well…ahem, sorry to break it to you but…you never have it all figured out. Or if you do, well, writing this as someone who is older than a youth but younger than middle-aged, I haven’t gotten there yet. I certainly didn’t have it figured out ten years after age 16 and almost ten more years have passed since then and I still don’t got it figured out. In fact, a weird thing happens as you get older—you become more and more aware of how much you don’t know and how far away you actually are from having anything (like, literally anything) figured out. You never quite become a grown up. But that’s okay, because better than becoming a grown up is the actual process of growing up. And that never ends.
Now, I imagine some of you are reading this and thinking that never having it figured out doesn’t sound so great. In fact, maybe it kind of sounds like it sucks. Well hear me out! Give me a shot at trying to break down what I’m saying here.
When someone wants to stop growing up so they can settle in to being a grown up who has it all figured out, what I think they’re really saying is, “I want to stop making mistakes, I want all of my tough decisions to be easy, and I want all of my relationships—family, friendship, romantic or otherwise—to be smooth and to just work out.”
Buddy, if only life were so easy.
The thing is, if anyone ever had it all figured out then this magazine wouldn’t exist, Oprah wouldn’t have a career, and TED talks just wouldn’t be a thing. That is to say that almost nobody has it figured it. Like, no one. Not now and not ever. (Well, maybe there’s someone out there, meditating in a cave on the side of a mountain, their thoughts doing interpretive dance in their heads, vibing to the metronomic beat of the far-off echo of water dripping, who has it all figured out, but we ain’t talking about them). We all make mistakes.
Many of these mistakes will be little but some of them will be whoppers of the downright life-altering variety. But not every mistake has to be a bad thing.
Let’s take the drug, Viagra, for example.
Viagra, which is used to, um, ensure that certain things will be ready to, uhhh, stand tall (writer’s note: I’m face palming my way through this entire paragraph), was originally developed to treat high blood pressure. Well, the scientists in charge obviously made a few errors and miscalculations along the way—some mistakes, if you will—and instead of reducing high blood pressure and relieving chest discomfort from the effects of heart disease, these scientists no doubt contributed to the rescue of many romantic relationships. So, that’s a mistake that led to something positive.
"The thing about growth is that the moment that growth stops is the moment you stop getting better as a person. Said another way, the moment that making mistakes and learning from those mistakes stops is the moment that you stop growing."
Now, I can hear you thinking, “well yeah, Asante, you really cherry-picked an easy to spin example that conveniently serves your inspire the youth article—why don’t you tell us about something hard that happened to you?!”
Well, since you asked…
To use a personal example, I had a kid when I was 22 years old, halfway through my very prestigious University of Toronto undergraduate degree. Now, to be clear, I am not saying that my son, Isiah, is a mistake, because he’s #DopeAF, however, he was certainly unplanned, the result of birth control measures that failed. At the time of his conception and birth, I was pretty damn excited! That was until the incessant refrain, mostly coming from friends and family, that I’d potentially screwed up my life path began to weigh heavily on my psyche. I quickly became ashamed of being a young father. It was hard. The truth is though, becoming a father so young probably saved my life.
At that point of my journey, despite being enrolled in a top university, I was sort of aimlessly floating through life, making some pretty irresponsible choices, including a few that maybe weren’t 100% legal. When Isiah was born, however, all of that floating stopped, and I started taking my life and my future more seriously, which included not risking my future making choices that could jeopardize it. Having a kid also made me realize that I had to get my (very poor at time) mental health together so I could be the father I wanted to be, the father I didn’t feel I had. So, while I was motivated by my own suffering to get my mental health together, knowing I had to be healthy for Isiah was the key factor that propelled me toward therapy like a rocket to the moon. And now that Isiah is growing up, a popular tween who does pretty well at school, goes out of his way to give homeless people money and calls me out when I do problematic things like propagate toxic masculinity, it’s abundantly clear to me that some accidents are worth having happen.
But I think I have to acknowledge that this is a rose-coloured glasses spin on the whole ‘growing up is hard so embrace your mistakes and accidents’ thing. Let’s be real, not every mistake and every accident that we are responsible for in our lives can be redeemed like in the two examples above. Sometimes we just friggin’ screw it up. Well, you know, that’s also just a part of growing up. A bigger part of growing up is knowing that you are going to screw it up. Over and over and over again. And though you’ll probably learn from those screw ups—especially if they’re frequent enough, hurtful enough, or both—you are sure to replace old things learned-from with new mistakes made, thus continuing the cycle.
This is growth.
The thing about growth is that the moment that growth stops is the moment you stop getting better as a person. Said another way, the moment that making mistakes and learning from those mistakes stops is the moment that you stop growing. The pain and discomfort and shame of making mistakes, facilitating our own life’s accidents and generally not having life figured out makes it easy to want to be an ideal future self, where we have it all sorted out, as a competent grown up. However, this outcome, in my opinion, would not be ideal. You can’t grow if you’re already grown.
So, if you ask me, it’s always better to be growing up than it is to be grown up.
Life isn’t about being perfect and not making mistakes—it’s about learning from them. It’s about knowing you’re going to miss the open net sometimes. It’s about choosing to help yourself when you should have chosen to help someone else and vice versa. It’s about knowing that every choice you make can go wrong, even if you have done everything imaginable to ensure the success of your decisions. You won’t always know what to do or what to say, and you’ll slip up along the way as you try to figure it out. And you will figure many things out, but you’ll likely never have it all figured out. And that’s okay.
Accept it. Learn from it. Grow from it. Be imperfect. Because imperfect is good enough.
And so are you.