At least not all the time.
I wish I knew this when I was 18, because life would’ve been so much more chill. In fact, there are lots of things I wish I knew when I was 18, but nobody told me, or I just didn’t listen. So a while ago, I wrote about what I wish I knew if I was 18 again, the first being that smartness isn’t really envy-worthy. It generated a bit of discussion. Easily encouraged, I decided to follow up with this.
I’m told that kids grow up hell of a lot faster these days, so hopefully they have this figured out by now. But when I was 18, I had all the symptoms of a paranoid schizophrenic without the benefit of medication or therapy. I felt as though everyone was watching me all the time, and was only just waiting till I stumbled on something (literally and figuratively) and made a fool of myself, so they could erupt in collective laughter with the satisfying knowledge that I, was a complete idiot, and they, were superior in every aspect. I felt self-conscious walking down the street, eating out in restaurants, talking in class. So pretty much every activity that required some, or any level of self-expression. Parents were of course, a major source of attention magnet, and I refused to be seen in public with them. Life kinda sucked back then.
It wasn’t until I turned the ripe old age of 23 that I was forced to grow some thick skin. I prefer to think of it as calloused, as a result of repeated rubbing. A series of changes began to take place, culminating in the liberating (or humiliating) final act where I allowed myself to fall asleep on the bus. That’s right, the bus on my way to and from work. Because I was too tired. I was too tired to care that I probably had drool spilling out from one side of my mouth, with a bus full of people “watching”. It was around that time that I finally figured out (without truly inhabiting the full implications of such realization, that took another couple of years) that people are generally 1) self-absorbed and has too much going on in their own lives to care about anyone but themselves, 2) most people, friends or frenemies, are not permanent fixtures in life (nothing is), and therefore, are not worth the worries.
The series of events that led up to that climatic commute ride started as soon as I got to university. When I stepped into my first class in a huge auditorium of a few hundred people, it became evident that getting called on or singled out for attention was probably the last thing that could happen. Whoo-hooo! I was lost in a sea of student numbers! After enjoying this exhilarating anonymity for a while, I realized that there were certain downsides to this invisibility. For starters, I couldn’t for the life of me get the attention of the lecturer, or even the lowly TAs for that matter. They simply did not know who I was, nor did they care. All that Dead Poet Society, Half Nelson, Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester crap lost whatever iota of truth it might have had back in high school. It soon dawned on me that all that concerted efforts in high school trying to deflect attention away from myself became a liability in university.
While I sulked in insolence, scores of other people were bathing in their new-found notoriety for their ability to return clever retorts to authority figures three times their age, or their impressively loud debacles at parties that resulted in favourable attention from members of the opposite sex. For once, nobody was paying any attention to me, but I still couldn’t enjoy the benefits that I thought it would yield me. I knew I was in trouble when our communications lecturer in business school told us that it was absolutely imperative that we had to distinguish ourselves from one another. It took the next half decade to correct the ensuing fallout from this declaration.
So, when you’re 18, it might not be a bad thing to be seen from time to time. You won’t stay the centre of attention for long. Real life will emancipate you from that situation eventually.
picture source: =beaucoupzero