AdviceHey, Bonita!

On Being Unapologetically You

Last time I answered a question about aging and the pressure we feel to achieve certain goals by a certain age. I really stressed the importance of surrounding yourself with people who won’t hold you to their own standards or judge you for living life at a pace that works best for you. I forgot to recommend refraining from putting others down just to feel better about yourself, to cultivate self-esteem that does not rely on the shortcomings of others to be valid. I used to deeply resent people who were more successful than me, and I managed that insecurity by telling myself that they were all unhappy losers.

In hindsight, I feel silly for grasping at security by judging my life to be better than someone else’s. Years ago, I scoffed to a coworker about a mom walking down the sidewalk outside of the shop where we worked. She was pushing a double stroller while walking with a toddler, who was resisting mom’s efforts to hold their hand as they walked so close to a busy street. I made a comment along the lines of, “When I see moms like that, I feel so sorry for them,” and my coworker immediately saw through my needless, unprompted words about a woman who was just living her life with no impact on my own. He gave me the kindest, gentlest smile before pretty much saying that he chose not to judge or make assumptions about others. He had no opinion on this woman or her kids or her midday walk, because why should he? He was not in the business of validating his own choices by judging the choices of others, and I suddenly felt like a huge asshole for clearly being party to such an immature worldview.

I work every day on cultivating a self-image that is independent of the actions of those around me, and it’s surprising to me how often I have to exercise that discernment. I’m very upfront about the fact that I’m no spring chicken, and lately I’m starting to notice that my generation might be edging its way into Old Fart territory. Basically, I’m seeing a lot of those “these kids don’t appreciate anything” type memes on social media out of people I graduated with, and it’s just embarrassing. Plenty of people say things like that as a joke, but I suspect that just as many really are basing part of their self-image on the differences between their generation and the next one. I’m proud of millenials for not hesitating to quit bad jobs or cut off abusive loved ones, as they’ve shaken off the social pressure that my generation felt to stick with bad jobs and partners. They’ve proven that “do it for the kids” hasn’t worked out, but I see so many people of my age maligning millennials for doing the things that we are not brave enough to do. I have watched so many of my classmates stick with terrible work conditions with absolutely no thought of asking for better out of their employers, because if you work hard enough, the employer will notice and reward you for it, right? Millennials don’t believe that, and neither should we. They don’t work overtime for free. They ask about salary ranges because it’s perfectly legal for them to do so, and if a job responds poorly to that, then they seek out work with companies that have more respect for their employees. They don’t scab on striking workers, and they don’t cross picket lines. They will punch the spit out of a Nazi’s mouth.  

I’m impressed as hell with these kids. How have we spent years telling young people not to take any guff, just to turn around and resent them when they practice what we preached? I just want to be myself, and I want that self to be independent of whatever anyone else is doing. Young people are not hurting anyone by living their values and being themselves, at any cost.

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