People often think of the senior citizens in our society as the ones who should be being cranky about everything, while the youth should be the ones who are much more carefree. We expect the older people to be the ones who feel weary with life, while the youth should be the ones who are filled with vitality, and approach each day with vigor.
We expect the old people to be complaining with their friends about everything, while the youth should be having fun with their friends and looking to the future. Our image of an old person is the “grumpy old man” or the “cranky old woman”, while we think about youth as being the exact opposite; carefree and craving the future.
However, it seems the exact opposite is true. The senior citizens are the ones who are carefree, and seem to have the most zest for life. They delight in the simplest of pleasures and are enamored by life’s wonders. The senior citizens are the ones who tend to have a perpetual smile on their face, and contrary to the stereotype of the “grumpy old man”, few are ever cranky about anything at all.
On the other hand, go to any high school during lunch break and look at the conversations that take place. All of them involve teenagers being cranky about their lives, complaining about everything with their friends and looking as if they are absolutely done with life. It seems we need to replace our stereotypes of the “grumpy old man” and “cranky old woman”, with the “cranky young teenager.”
The statistics also support this. 94% of teenagers report feeling overwhelmed in their lives. Also, according to the Stress in America Survey, teenagers tend to report higher levels of stress than adults, and experience higher degrees of stress than they themselves believe is healthy. Stress has been shown to be a major cause of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, as well as physical problems, including unhealthy weight gain, and chronic fatigue. All these things have been shown to shorten lifespan as well as quality of life significantly.
A huge cause of all the stress in a teen’s life is the education system. The average teen spends about 38 hours a week on their education. You are considered to be in a full time job when you work 40 hours a week. Teens have the equivalent of a full time job on their backs once they entre high school. This is often a lot for any adult to handle, so how can we expect such a young person to juggle such a commitment.
The greatest affliction our youth face today may not be any physical disease, but rather a life that is literally driving them into the ground. One of the main problems that causes this is a lack of definite purpose in life. The average university student will change his major 3 times before graduation. What’s more, 32% of college graduates report that they have never worked in a job related to their major. What this shows is that many youth have no idea what they want to do with their lives. They have little to no sense of a driving purpose in life which is bigger than themselves.
They are going through their education, which is a full time job, with little idea of what they are ultimately going to do with it. When you work for long periods of time without any clear purpose in mind, you are causing your energy to be grinded down. You have to exclusively use your own mental and physical resources to do the job. You are not using the full extent of your energy, which is near infinite. When you go through long periods like this, then you will become vulnerable to overwhelm and burnt out, as many teenagers are.
If there is a clear driving purpose bigger than yourself, you actually gain energy by working. There is no such thing as stress or overwhelm. You enter a state of flow, and hours feel like seconds. You become excited to go do your work. It does not matter what this purpose is. It does not matter how big or how small people rate it. What matters is that you have something which is meaningful to you, and excites you, no matter how grueling the job itself may be.
I remember the story of three brick layers working on the Taj Mahal. A tourist from a far off land walked up to the site of the Taj Mahal, and not knowing what was going on, asked a worker what he was doing. The worker angrily said, “Can’t you see, I am laying brick.”
He walked around to the back of the site, and he saw a second worker cutting stone and he asked the same question. This second worker said, “I am cutting stones so that I can earn some money.” The worker walked around the site some more, and he saw a worker struggling to haul some stones to the site. He walked up to him and asked the same question.
He expected an angry answer from the worker, because he was by far doing the most grueling work. However, this worker cheerfully replied, ‘I am building the world’s greatest mausoleum, which will stand for centuries.”
The first two brick layers were only working because they felt that they had no other choice. They would rather have been someplace else, but they were forcing themselves to work because that was what was expected of them.
However, the third brick layer was working with purpose. He was doing the hardest job, and had by far the most reason to be angry with his work. However, he did not see it as simply hauling stone. He saw it as building a wonder of the world. His purpose was not hauling stone, it was creating something that would be admired for ages.
There is no such thing as grueling hard work when there is a purpose driving you, because the purpose propels you through everything. There is no sense of struggle, because you genuinely want to do what you are doing, and there is no block of energy from negative feelings about your work, so you just flow through the work.
This purpose has to be found by each person for themselves. An important thing to remember is that what you love may not be what you are naturally talented at. The members of the Beatles were dismissed by their music teachers as not cut out for music. They were also rejected by multiple record companies, who said, “They have no sound.”
The Beatles loved music, but it is not like they were a groundbreaking band from the very beginning. They had to spend thousands of hours working on their craft, most notably in Hamburg, Germany, where they would play in various clubs, often doing all-night performances.
It took them two years performing and working like this before they finally got their first recording. After that, the rest is history. They went on to become the best selling music group in history, and are all-time legends in the music industry.
Many people are afraid to commit themselves to something they are not good at. They do not want to be ridiculed for having big dreams, and yet looking like a total novice for a period of time. They do not want the ridicule that occurs when you say, “I want to be one of the best ever.” at something.
Look at Muhammad Ali. He would run after the bus when he was in high school, all the while shouting his declaration of becoming the greatest of all time. He would talk about his dreams to anyone who appeared half interested. Ali’s high school mates all ridiculed him for having these dreams.
They did not understand the fire that existed within the man who irritated them with his constant recital of poems and dreams. The girls dismissed him as sweet and shy, but unlikely for success, and annoying with his constant mentioning of how he was going to be the greatest of all time. He was in many ways a social outcast, because he was different. It wasn’t like he was hated, but he was never one among them.
And that is the truth; today, Muhammad Ali stands in a class of his own as “The Greatest”, not just as an athlete, but as one of the most revered human beings of all time. He stuck to his dreams no matter how his peers treated him for it when he was young. He stuck by his beliefs during the Vietnam war and refused to fight, as those around him jeered and called him a coward, and a “draft-dodger.” He stood by himself, and he now stands as someone who will always be remembered by people around the world for the inspiration he brought into their lives.
This is the biggest reason why today’s teenagers are so dissatisfied with their lives. They do not have a clear purpose to drive them, and the self reliance to stick by that purpose no matter how unlikely it seems. They do not have that real fire to go out and manifest their purpose into reality. They do not have that self reliance to tell themselves, “I will not care about what the critics have to say, because in the end, they will all remember me.”
Because of this, they just resign themselves to the life that everyone else is living, and grind away in the pursuit of something which they themselves do not find meaningful. This, as explained before, is the cause of all the stress and overwhelm that exists in teenager’s lives.
Legendary entrepreneur and author Jim Rohn once said, “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”
You are the only person that should have primary control over where your life goes. If you give up this control to other people and society at large, then you have caught yourself up in the trap that so many of our youth and adults are caught up in. A trap filled with stress and overwhelm, which makes you little more than a cog in society’s mechanism. Keep this control, and you will inevitably find a life of unparalleled success and happiness. Which is your choice?
What is important to remember is that success is the greatest revenge. At the moment, the critics have their turn, but if you work hard and let your purpose drive you, then they will all wonder how they could have ever said or thought anything bad about you.
And when in doubt of whether to proceed, when all the critics surround you telling you that you cannot do it, remember this poem by Bruce Lee,
“The doubters said, “Man cannot fly”.
The doers said, “Maybe, but we’ll try.”
And finally they soared in the morning glow
While non-believers watched from below.”
Always remember, greatness is a choice to take the road less travelled.