The Quest Within, Pt 3: “Don’t Ever Change”

Sometimes when I look at myself, I wonder when did I miss the bus to “Man-Ville?” I wonder about the equation of how many of us males end up like I am or just lost overall. So I started thinking and thought a big factor would have to have been how we grew up. 

Adolescence. The time in every boy’s life when he grows into an adult BUT the experiences during that time can/will determine if it makes him into a man or not. I remember my time vividly from age 13-17. I was in the 7th grade and in my 2nd to last year of the elementary school I’ve been in since age 5. I’ve had the same friends up to that point so people knew me very well. Every year we’d get yearbooks and of course we’d follow the tradition of passing them around to get signed. Like clockwork, I’d get the same compliments every year: “funny”, “smart”, “crazy”.  But one compliment was a staple in my yearbook – “Don’t ever change”. Reasoning being because people loved the way I was. As did I. I brought something to the table that was of value to them. From age 14 to 17, I was in High School with literally a whole school of new people but some students from the previous school had spilled over. While they adapted to their new setting and what high school would entail (faux hierarchy, girls, sexual experimentation, etc), I pretty much stayed the same.

Now of course every year, I grew mentally & physically (okay maybe not physically) but the lack of experiences left me inactive in life. I wasn’t necessarily a hermit in school, mind you. Yes, for the most part, I just kept to myself & stayed in my shell. But when I would come out, I made friends. Other people knew of me and once they got to know me, they thought I was great. I wasn’t adapting as rapidly like my peers but despite my introverted lifestyle, that same phrase appeared again in those yearbooks, “Don’t ever change.” Again, I was loved for who I was and reminded that I was good enough “as is”.

You poor, deluded, fool.

Unless you were fortunate to receive tutelage about Manhood early on in life, from age 5 to 17 you believe everything is smooth sailing and that’s because everything is pretty much on automatic until a year before college and that’s when the fantasy bubble explodes. Before you know it you have to make adult decisions that will affect the rest of your life all while you still have “-teen” attached to your age. Then in a flash you’re just plopped in the middle of the real world on the anniversary of the first quarter of your life and its like “uhhhh… what do I do now?” “Where to go, who to be, & what to do” become the itches in your mind you can’t scratch constantly bothering you every day.

So as I grew up looking like a man on the outside, I was still a kid trying to grasp his surroundings. Let me be the first to tell you, the effects of blooming late in life SUCKS. You constantly re-evaluate your current situation and beat yourself up asking “what happened” and you wonder “How did I get here?” like that 80s song “Once in a Lifetime”. The worst feeling is when you’re around friends who are LIGHTYEARS ahead in the adult game (career, wife, kid(s), house) but happen to be younger then you. That is one swift kick in the pants. Square in the genital region. That happen to be your favorite pair… of genitals.

When I think back on that time in my life, I think “Don’t Ever Change” was probably the worst advice I could have ever got. Sure, I still get compliments from friends & strangers alike praising me on my personality. In regards to Life though, being me has not helped me one bit. I no longer bring value to the table. I am (and have stayed) this meek geek struggling introvert and I hate it. Being just me doesn’t work anymore. By the way, this isn’t to put blame on people for my upbringing, no no, I’m just looking back on the missteps I took into a world I wasn’t prepared for and feeling the repercussions. Being in the middle space or “Puberty Purgatory” between Adolescent and Adult is not a fun place to occupy.

While doing research about this issue, I found this term called “Emerging Adulthood”. Basically Wikipedia explains it is as “a new demographic, is contentiously changing, and some[2] believe that twenty-somethings have always struggled with “identity exploration, instability, self-focus, and feeling in-between.”

Yeah, I can definitely see the similarities to this and my situation. Remember that song from Britney Spears, “I’m a Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman”? That’s pretty much me right now. Just, you know… not a girl… or a woman for that matter. It’s a weird go-to reference but it speaks perfectly to the definition. Let’s say you’re 23-24 years old. You’re definitely not a kid, but you’re not where your parents are either. It’s that weird stage where you are figuring out what “Adult” really means to you (besides another way of saying Porn). Essentially, you’re in this period of self-evaluation trying to figure it all out.

Wikipedia also informs us that “Hollywood has produced multiple movies where the main conflict seems to be a “grown” adult’s reluctance to actually “grow” up and take on responsibility. Failure to Launch and Step Brothers are extreme examples of this concept. While most takes on emerging adulthood (and the problems that it can cause) are shown in a light-humored attempt to poke fun at the idea, a few films have taken a more serious approach to the plight. AdventurelandTake Me Home TonightCyrus and Jeff, Who Lives at Home are comedy-dramas that exhibit the plight of today’s emerging adult.”

While the beginning of this entry went into detail about my sense of limbo in life, there is a side of reluctance to grow up. I don’t necessarily want to stay an adolescent, but it’s more since I don’t know how to be a man, I’m afraid of the uncertainty of the future and failing because of my ill-equipped state of being. In the movie Take Me Home Tonight with Topher Grace & Anna Faris, Topher’s character Matt is an ambitious person with a setback on life. Even with his achievements he still can’t get over the fear of uncertainty:

Matt: …I’ll do whatever you want me to do”

Dad: “but what do you want?”

Matt: I don’t know, I’m sorry! I’m just messed up, okay?! I don’t know what I want to do and I’m sorry I’m such a fucking failure!”

Dad: You haven’t really failed son, because you really haven’t tried to succeed. So don’t credit yourself as a failure. You’re worse than that.

Even though my dad has never said that to me, a few of my friends (and my ex) have repeated something along those lines to my face. I know it’s all in good faith to make me better and to not tear me down. Still though, to be lost in that time and space of adulthood is just crippling to the soul. In the book Wild at Heart it states: “Most men have never been initiated into manhood. They have never had anyone show them how to do it, and especially how to fight for their heart. The failure of so many fathers, the emasculating culture, and the passive church has left men without direction” That’s where I am now. Because of my missed initiation, it has set my path onto an undefined route and I need to find a way on course before I derail completely.

I’m not getting any younger and my insecurities have taken over my life it’s almost left me paralyzed. I’m ashamed with what I’ve become in lieu of what I’ve been missing and that is a shell of a man. The cost of being this way (losing my fiancé, being left back in life) has been too great. This scene from the movie between Topher’s character and his father really resonated with me while I watched and took note.

Dad: Matt, take a shot at something. Don’t think about it too much – just take the shot.

Matt: I don’t even know where to aim.

Dad: Anywhere. Everywhere. Just take wild shots. Hell, it’s something just to hear the gun go off.

I need to be more aggressive, I need to fight for my Life and breathe fire into a heart that’s long been on life support. Being “as is” held me back from becoming what “Could Be”.

I’ve had one foot dipped in the water of two worlds for far too long. It is what it is. The good news is it can be fixed. The bad news is is that for me to fix it I must go wade in the uncharted waters of the very thing I have struggled in becoming – a man – and that’s a problem, but a welcomed challenge.

Now what to do about the assholes? Well, that’s a different challenge altogether…

To Be Continued…

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