Sunday, September 28, 2008

youth and the illusion of maturity

I spent some time this evening chatting with a 17 year old high school senior, or rather, being questioned curiously by her. She's applying to colleges, wants to go to a small private school, wants to study psychology or maybe education, but isn't sure if she wants to stay in state or go back to the east coast where she lived the first 16 years of her life.

She asked me all sorts of things about TCU, A&M, psychology, professors, Fort Worth, my decision of where to go to college. The most interesting was her asking if college was harder than high school, and me explaining how college and high school are different. Then she wanted to know how grad school was different from college, and is it hard. She was an engaging young woman, and I enjoyed our conversation. It really doesn't feel like it was that long ago when I was in her shoes, making the same decision of where to spend four (but wound up being 3 1/2) years of my life.

After the conversation wrapped up, I was struck by how in spite of her eloquence and intelligence, how young she seemed. How inexperienced, how unexposed, how naive. Talking about college with her almost seemed ridiculous - how can a seventeen year old make a decision like that? How does a seventeen year old know whether she wants to stay in state or move away, when she doesn't even know much about the field of psychology which she claims she wants to study, when she didn't even know that the fields of school psychology or organizational psychology existed? And then it hit me - this was exactly where I was six years ago when I was trying to make that decision. How the hell did I make a decision like that at that age? I didn't even know what organizational psychology was at the age of 17 either!

In six years when I'm 29, a licensed psychologist (cross my fingers), will I look back at the current me and wonder, "How the hell did a 23 year old make those decisions? How did she know what she was doing?" My mom always has lots to say about people in their mid-twenties, how we don't mean to be, but we're very stuck on ourselves. I really don't know whether to believe it or not, and won't know for a few more years. Sometimes I feel so young, but most of the time, I feel like I'm just where I need to be. But that scares me, because I don't remember feeling young when I was 17.


if walled in climb up said...

Seeing the world at the ripe old age of 22, it seems crazy that they make us make major life decisions at 17.

Today in the grocery store I ran into the mom of several kids I used to babysit. She told me the oldest ones were about to turn 17 and I was absolutely shocked. It literally feels like only yesterday I was turning 16.

About being 'stuck on ourselves.' While I don't think it's good to be completely selfish and self-absorbed, I think it's good to contemplate yourself and your life, even very often, especially at this age when you're making major life decisions. At times it feels like the only way to survive. So much of who we are personality-wise is developing at this age. And don't some stages in psychological development actually put (aah, I forget the correct term) this sort of self-orientation as necessary for healthy development? I think our society does often promote "selfish" values, but I also think there's this widespread fear of appearing too selfish, and sometime it gets really silly.

Good post--a very enjoyable, thoughtful read. : )

crackers and cheese said...

I'm willing to bet that my mom and I define "selfishness" differently.

Yes, Erickson's developmental model has a stage called "Identity vs. Role Confusion," which is supposed to occur during adolescence, but in our generations, adolescence tends to get postponed and some theorizes that this stage now lasts longer. Interestingly, the following stage is Intimacy vs. Isolation, which implies that humans should figure out who they are before they figure out who they should be close to.z

Cara said...

First of all, I loved the Erickson review. Seriously; I'm a nerd. I know it's easy to look at younger kids and think, "They're so young!" But, as you can probably remember, there is a lot going on in their heads and hearts. We'll look back one day and think, "We were so young!" But I think this blog is a pretty good documentation of the wisdom that is already in you.