Last week, I turned 19. While reflecting on my new year, I concluded that I feel much older than my actual age. If the fact that I was contently journaling to the soft tunes of Van Morrison and Ray Lamontagne while friends smoked cigars nearby was not enough of an indicator to lead me to such conclusion, perhaps the following realizations can better illustrate:
- My Pinterest account is a virtual collection of activities to do with my children one day. I already have a physical collection of toys, games, and shoes that I plan to give them.
- Unless properly informed, I prefer solitary journaling on Saturday nights to social clubbing.
- Sweating, particularly on a yoga mat, keeps me going.
- I will be the first to take your keys and the last to drink.
- Green smoothies replace bagged anything, any day.
- Christian fellowship is a rock on which to build my being.
- Early mornings are reserved for runs at sunrise, prayer, NPR, and chai tea.
- Ideas excite me, especially ones that turn community challenges into scale-able solutions.
- I have three weddings to attend in three months, for friends of no other family members or acquaintances than myself.
Age is not only a mark of physical change, which is especially apparent in the pre-20 years, but also—perhaps more so—a mark of expected maturity. Naturally, age and maturity do not always correlate. For example, I have been surprised by the lack of maturity in my host siblings, ages fourteen and seventeen. When we attend family gatherings, (which is every weekend—this is Ecuador, after all) they sit on the couch surfing their phones, not helping, not conversing. To my embarrassment, they made no attempt to change this habit even at the dinner party of a national diplomat, Silvia Salgado Andrade. At home, they complain about washing the dishes, steal each other’s toilet paper instead of replenishing their own, and watch television until their parents come home, prompting them to scurry into their rooms and pretend like they’ve been studying. When I go out with my sister on the weekends, she doesn’t respect her mother’s curfew, leaves without a plan, often gets into the cars of other guys, and returns home drunk.
I should not be surprised. This is normal teenage behavior. Nor am I exempt; I’m simply less accustomed to it because I have my own, well, unusual tendencies. For instance, I sweep my room no fewer than four times a week in a self-fulfilling prophecy of OCD. When my host mom attempted to show me how to mop the floor last week, I had to keep from laughing at the gesture to teach something so self-explanatory. I have also been blessed to be surrounded by caring adults who nurtured a sense of responsibility from the very beginning: when I was fourteen, my school generously rallied behind an anti-bullying campaign I created with a friend. When I was seventeen, it was all but expected to wake each morning with gusto, exercise, make breakfast, drive myself to school, stop for any necessary errands, and usually arrive early to attend leadership meetings of some kind. And if my mother should tell me to do my homework, we’d both scoff at the obviousness of such request. In addition to tendencies, there are my own guilty pleasures: on the day I signed my college commitment documents, I bought a bottle of Fre Moscato and some sushi, built a fire in the backyard, and sat with my dog under the Christmas lights we had strung, listening to NPR and pondering how the world dealt its cards.
Of course, I have my own child-like tendencies. I still love blowing bubbles in chocolate milk when no one is looking. I’d hand my taxes to my father without thinking twice. I think about myself more than anyone, especially while encouraged by social media outlets like Instagram and Facebook to be the center of every photograph that captures my experience. And above all, I maintain a subtle, somewhat subconscious air of entitlement that because I have done such and such, I am better than so and so.
This last shortcoming is where I need a serious birthday. It’s where I need to turn 32, the age of a mom who is having her first child and suddenly her whole world shifts focus to a different being; or 54, the age of a father sending his daughter off to college and understanding for the first time the limitations of a parent in a big, unpredictable world; or 68, the age of a grandparent retiring after years of a laborious career, only to realize that she wants to champion a cause much larger than herself in her final phase of life. At each of these ages, in each of these stages of life, we internalize a humble realization that our purpose on earth is much greater than ourselves. While we may have understood this idea before, we are newly equipped with the tools to live out our beliefs. We allow our values to create our habits, not vice versa.
In this sense, I am very much so nineteen. It is true that I have maintained confidence in a certain purpose in my life and while the platforms on which I build change, the end-goal is always the same: to serve God by serving his people. But if I am self-critical, I spend more time wondering what my next experience will be than that of the marginalized child my own company strives to serve. Or forget, for a moment, the distant, ambiguous child that appears in any patronizing charity advertisement: I think about my own experience more than that of even my best friend. Than that of my mom. How long before ‘experience’ becomes ‘well-being’?
In the story of Narcissus, Nemesis, the Greek goddess also known Adrastei, meaning “inescapable” for the arrogant, is known as the counter force to hubris. When Narcissus, the handsome young hunter, drowns from staring at his reflecting in the lake, it is said that he got what he deserved. But I prefer an ending author Paulo Coehlo offers in The Alchemist, in which the lake mourns for his death. Like Narcissus, we Millennials stare daily into our own lake. But if we fall in, if we succumb to the hyper-active pressure of the media to achieve its unattainable version of perfect, it will only be to the detriment of our own human kind that we pass.
Like many other 19 year-olds, I am pulled into this current of narcissism. Thus, I have created some goals for The Year of 19 to stay above the surface:
1. Post with a conscience – social media is not the king of all evils, but how I use it matters. How can I leverage my media presence to build awareness, convey honest messages, and further a cause?
Context is key – the bigger picture has helped me understand many a situation and it won’t fail me now. In the words of Eileen Knowles, “We have such limited perspectives of the world. And yet we must remember that every human beside us does too.”
Meet people where they are – I owe my making to the people who have met me where I needed them most—even when they were leaps and bounds ahead of me intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually. I have a responsibility to pay it forward whenever and in whatever way opportunity presents itself. And right now, that starts with my siblings.
These are my goals for The Year of 19. What’s your year? What are your goals?