Well, I’ve officially been 21 years old for three days now, and seeing as it’s the first Saturday of the month, I’m actually supposed to give my monthly update now, ahaha. However, since my blog was pretty inactive the past month, I don’t have much to give update on, in that respect. So instead, I would like to share my birthday experience and what I’ve learned about myself in these three short days.
My birthday this year was simultaneously eventful and uneventful. Actually, maybe the best word would be de-eventful, seeing as my birthday this year was the end to many things.
For one thing, for an education class I was taking in college, I had been visiting a third grade class once a week for the past several months, and it was my last day there. I hadn’t realized that the teacher and children remembered, but as I was about to leave, they sang happy birthday to me, and the teacher handed me a paper bag with $11 body lotion and a hand-drawn card from every single child. It was honestly such a sweet surprise. I left my email with the teacher in case any of the kids want to contact me, but in all likelihood, I will fade from their memories as adults from third-grade did from mine. I will keep these cards though and remember them fondly.
Also, on a less sweet note, my final legacy in that classroom is teaching children that traditional faeries kill and otherwise deceive people, so woops. In my defense, a little girl was upset that her teacher gave her a sparkly fairy princess book to read, so I was trying to cheer her up / give her something to do while everyone else was quiet-reading. It worked, except it turned into Scary Storytime with Sable, fun fun.
Not only that, however. May 3 was also my last day of classes, and I am officially in review week for my final projects, presentations, and exams. Honestly, I never mind finals. What stresses me out about academia is always the homework – the little, consistent things. So right now, it feels like I can come alive. I can feel my mind buzz with story ideas, and I want to write, write, write, and I plan to do just that.
Oh, my suitemates threw me a surprise joint birthday celebration at night. I had half-expected something of the sort, so it wasn’t a surprise necessarily, but it was still sweet, and now there’s fluffy chocolate cake in the fridge.
So all in all, my birthday was restful. Major things happened, but it was more that things came to their quiet, predetermined end, and with their passing I can breathe again.
But what did I learn? What can I learn in three short days?
In these three short days, I was again presented with a number of emotional confrontations – not involving me, necessarily, but people came to me with their conflicts seeking help and advice. I was approached by people in reality, people overseas, and strangers on the internet. Sometimes I mind. This time I didn’t.
However, the people who seek advice from me are, more often than not, my peers or at times even older than me, and it made me realize all over again that 21 is young. People make such a big deal about it, especially in the U.S. since that’s the drinking age, but I’m only 21 years old. I’m struck by that fact now. I look at my hands, still smooth and unmarred, and see myself in the mirror and think, god, am I an adult? This age seemed so old to me when I was little, but in reality, I’m young, not yet independent, and it’s a bizarre thought.
Yet a lot of people, my peers and those older, turn to me for guidance through emotional conflict, and I don’t know how to feel about that. I enjoy being dependable, but I dislike being the the go-to guide for everyone that I interact with, especially those who share my number of years. I’ve put some thought into it, and I think that’s because people my age and people older than me should realize how young I really am. I’m only 21 now. I’ve been alive for as long or less than they have.
Shouldn’t they know what I know, I feel sometimes. Shouldn’t they have learned these skills by now, I can’t help but think. But ultimately, I know that’s not true. As everyone else in the world, I am a unique product of my genetics, temperament, upbringing, interests, and other life experiences. Even as children, teenagers, young adults, people naturally gravitate towards what they have learned is important, what they have learned is valuable over the years.
For me, from childhood to adolescence to present day, I learned to value communication. In university, there are communications courses, but they all focus on communication in a corporate perspective. That’s important, for sure, especially in a capitalistic society. However, when do we, as people, learn to communicate with each other?
Books and articles tell us to listen to each other, to see from their perspective, etc. but nothing tells you what it means. They all say to listen, but forget to remind you to demonstrate that you’re listening or what to do with what you learn from listening. Nothing teaches you how to see from another perspective, as though it comes easily to everyone. It doesn’t.
And nothing teaches you how to read people, how to be aware of your body language, the many ways that language can be interpreted and misunderstood – everything tells you the value of communication, and nothing tells you how to communicate or even what it means to communicate. I didn’t know for the longest time. I still wouldn’t say that I’m the expert people claim me to be. I’m just someone who put more thought into it than others might have, because I learned that it was important.
And all this serves as a reminder to me that I was not born with these skills that people value me for. I am a product of my upbringing in part, my temperament in another, but ultimately these are skills that I learned for myself after making mistakes. They’re hard-earned and skills that I have chosen to develop for my own sake.
People consistently praise me for being a good person – kind and thoughtful. In reflection, these were not inborn traits of mine. The memories that linger from my childhood is a significant superiority complex with the intelligence to try and hide it, a closed-mindedness born from complete security in who I am as a person – I was raised a polite child, but I wasn’t born a good one.
Being a kind and thoughtful person is a choice every time. It’s not a one-time thing. Every time I am presented with a situation involving others, I have to make the conscious choice to be kind, to be thoughtful, and I make that choice not for the sake of others or some vague moral obligation – I make that choice for myself. All my kindness, all my thoughtfulness, stems from a desire to be satisfied with myself as a person.
In these three short days, I was once again reminded that my supposed goodness is all grown from an inherent selfishness, and that reminder puts me at ease. That reminder allows me to feel whole again, and for the first time in months, I feel revitalized.
The university I am currently attending prides itself as a forefront for social justice, and so the people attending it care, deeply, about a diverse array of issues. Each issue is important, for certain. However, there is also a strong sentiment of war, a sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Unchangeable, without variance. In such an environment, it’s easy to become caught up in the need to be a good person, to be accepted, to be on the proper team, to belong – after all, who wouldn’t want to be a ‘good person’ compared to an evil one?
I never wanted to be a good person. And now I remember that I still have no desire to be a good person, and it’s feels like removing an old collar from my neck. I had long outgrown it, but at some point I had put it back on and I hadn’t realized that was what was strangling the satisfaction out of me.
What is good and what is evil? Those definitions change with social alignment, with political affiliations, with time. I could never leash myself to something so inconsistent. I’ve seen the people who do, and I’ve seen the way they stumble when the goodness that leads them abruptly changes speed or direction. I see no happiness in such a life.
In these three short days, I’ve remembered the kind of person I want to be in life: one I can be proud of.
And in all reality, that doesn’t depend on society’s view of good and evil. That depends solely on me and me alone. I am not kind and thoughtful in order to be a good person – I am empathetic and take the time to think because I couldn’t be proud of who I am if I did not. I don’t associate with people from marginalized groups to be a good person – I do it because spending time with individuals within those groups brings me happiness. I help people with their own writing because watching their improvement motivates me to do better myself.
I am selfish, and I’m fine with that. I plan to be selfish for as long as I live. And rather than something as fickle as an external goodness, I would rather be driven forward by my inherent selfishness.
I will stay awake all night to help a friend because their emotional health is key to my own happiness. I will give a homeless girl my food because her having a meal puts my own mind at ease. I will answer people asking me for advice to better understand myself and my views on the world through helping them.
And in my view, that selfishness is more honest than being a good person would ever be.
Perhaps this is a philosophy that can’t belong to everyone. I can already see how such words can be used to justify horrible, damaging behaviors if used by someone who derives contentment from huring others. However, selfish as it may be, this is a philosophy that I have developed for myself, and it is a philosophy that will lead me to happiness, and so I will continue to use it. I believe this to be a philosophy that will allow me to become someone who I can be proud of.
In present day, that’s in line with what a good person is. However, even if society swivels and my moral compass no longer aligns with what ‘goodness’ is, at the end of the day, I will still be someone I am proud to be.
I will never be a good person. I will only ever be a better version of me, and the only person I will compare myself to is myself. And it all sounds very arrogant, egoistical, and selfish. Me, me, me. I would much rather the arrogant, egoistical, and selfish in this way than to go back to being insecure, trapped in the people’s panopticon.
And maybe that will change in time. That’s the nature of living – change. But to that, I say, I’m only 21 years old. I still have time to make mistakes. Such is the luxury and privilege that comes with youth. And, selfishly, I am going to make the most of that.
So I’m kicking off this year of my life self-assured. Perhaps it is full of myself, but I am proud of who I am, and I feel no shame in feeling fulfilled with who I am.
With that said, I’m heading into finals, and I’ll work hard on them because that’s what will make me feel good about myself. For no reason other than that.