I’m a fixer. Yes, I know, pop psychology assigns that role to men, labeling women, instead, as nurturers. A nurturer is someone who takes care of people, while a fixer is someone who takes care of problems. That sounds all nice and tidy, but I’m not sure the reality is that mutually exclusive. At least it’s not with me. When someone I love is hurting, I want to wrap my arms around them and hold them tight. But I want to know why they’re hurting, too…and I want to FIX that. Make the problem go away. Sometimes this is simple, such as buying a bigger size of shoes or remembering to put sunscreen on before a day at the beach. But other times it’s harder. Sometimes the problems aren’t of the flesh, but of the spirit…and the heart.
My kids are young. Our problems are still relatively simple. But I have other young people in my life whom I’ve known and loved since the first time I held them as babies, and they’re lives are getting more complex. And when they hurt, when they stumble and fall, when they walk in front of a figurative firing squad, everything inside me goes a little nutso with the desire–the NEED–to fix whatever it is that’s causing the pain.
But I can’t. At least not all the time. Because life doesn’t work like that. Wisdom is not something magically transferred from person to person. It’s (too often) something attained through personal blood, sweat, and tears. How many times when you were a kid or young adult and someone tried to give you advice (that you didn’t really like) did you think: But you don’t understand! You don’t get it! I’m different. This situation is different. You’ll see. I’ll prove it to you…
Bottom line: some life lessons have to be lived.
Realizing this, I sit here feeling nostalgic and melancholy, feeling helpless at what I view as an inevitable train wreck involving someone I love…someone I’ve nurtured and cared for…someone I’ve tried to coach and teach…but someone who is convinced I am dead wrong. But I’m not. I know I’m not. I’ve seen this particular story play out too many times, and it always ends the same. Always.
So..out of curiosity, I tossed a question out there on Facebook and Twitter: What do you know now that you wish you’d known at 18?
And the answers were pretty fascianting. And wise.
I wish I’d known:
- …how much I loved certain things later in life so I could have made the education decisions to align my job with my loves.
- …how important it is to enjoy the moment. When I was 18 I wanted to rush to college, then rush to career. Wish I’d savored the moments.
- …that one thought, one call, one letter, one misspoken word can change the course of so much.
- …that I was stronger than I thought.
- …how much I would continue to change during my twenties. I thought being eighteen, then being twenty-one, meant I was a grown-up. And maybe I was by definition but it didn’t mean I was finished “trying on” who I was and wanted to be. I was much more comfortable in my own skin at twenty five than at twenty one. And more comfortable at thirty than twenty five. Actually this has continued and I’m pushing fifty! Take your time. You have time. Relax. Get to know yourself and be kind to not only others but to yourself.
- …that what goes around comes around.
- …I was going to live this long because I would have taken better care of myself.
- …nothing is really as dramatic as it all seems at that age.
- …that people don’t change; instead they only become more of who they are.
- …someone who hurt you once will hurt you again…but someone who’s loved you always will love you forever.
- …sometimes even real deep love isn’t enough.
- …if people are jerks to you more than twice stop wasting your time with them because They Will Not Change. Move on because the 18 yr old self deserves better and is worth better treatment.
- …I was nowhere near as smart as I thought I was…or that I would one day become.
- …that lust is fantastic, but there’s so much more to building a future.
- …to take more time getting where I am now. I rushed thru years thinking I had to cram it all in. I should have slowed down & enjoyed my simple life more.
- …all dark clouds pass, that possibility is endless, that you really are the designer of your own future, that dreams really can come true, and that few things are as toxic as doubt.
- …that words really are as powerful as sticks and stones, that a single smile can light up the whole room, and a simple hug work miracles.
- …that there is no love like the love you have for your children and realized my parents had this love for me.
- …that just because you love someone, doesn’t mean they are good for you, or that you end up together. It’s okay to love someone, but not have them in your life.
- …the value of keeping a journal. It would be nice to show my kids that I really do understand what they are going through at various times. I may seem ancient to them, but I’ve “been there, done that” with most of their issues and know what I’m talking about.
- …how to tell girls the ‘bad boy’ they were chasing was nothing but trouble and have them at least listen to what I said. Trying again with my daughters… don’t think I’ll have any better luck this time around.
- …that this world is a lot tougher on the inside than it is on the outside. I would have gone to college instead of a trade school in my thirties. And that boys aren’t all they are made out to be when you are that young!
- …and BELIEVED that possibilities are ENDLESS at that age. Want to go to school in a different country? You can make it happen. Want to graduate school and join the Peace Corp for a year? IT CAN happen. BELIEVE what you know are possibilities!
- …that your best friend today won’t necessarily be your best friend for life. It is OK for separation to occur. If it was a true meaningful relationship, you can still be good friends without seeing each other or talking every day.
- …that regret sucks. I also wish I knew how good I looked, how funny I was and how kind I was to others. We don’t love ourselves enough when we are young. I also wish I knew how powerful my college friendships would be in my life.
- …that I should have let the good teachers/people influence me more and the bad ones less. I stopped singing in HS because the teacher played favorites in a huge way and she was fairly horrible to others. I stopped writing in college because of a teacher who tried to beat the love for it out of me and succeeded—for a while. I started writing again but never started singing (though now that we have a piano I find myself eyeballing it….)
- …that anger is a mask for fear or hurt, and that when you really love someone, you’ll try like crazy to prevent them being hurt, even if that means you get cast as the bad guy.
- …that love is supposed to be kind.
- …that being popular doesn’t mean a hill of beans beyond high school. It’s a clean slate once you graduate, and you can forge your own path after high school.
- …that life isn’t fair, never has been, never will be and to get over it. Also, there are always people better off than you and people worse off than you.
- …that getting married young closes many doors. My first marriage was a huge mistake and a waste of years. I wish I had known that I am enough for me.
- …how to have faith in myself and what I could accomplish. I wish I’d realized that a mistake doesn’t equal failure, that there are many new beginnings that start with learning what doesn’t work.
- …that depression isn’t in my imagination. It can be treated.
- …sometimes you have to jump to learn to fly.
- …to take every opportunity you’re given since you may not ever get it again.
- …that sometimes “getting serious about your future” means not giving up on your dreams too.
- …that aside from family and friends, nothing you think is important then will be important to you ten years later.
- …that family is home.
We all learn. Life teaches us. There is no greater teacher. But sometimes the lessons themselves really stink. I wish I could fix what I see looming on the horizon. I wish I could prevent the inevitable pain. But I can’t. It’s not my life, and the more I try, the more I’ll only create other problems. We all have to choose, then walk, our own paths. In the meantime, I’m working to suppress my inner fixer and be ready to nurture when the time comes. Because it will.
Feel free to add to this list. I’d love to know what YOU wish YOU’D known when you were 18….