Being young and free… it is something I yearn for because I know I can never go back there. In truth I yearn for it with the knowledge and experience I have today. I never want to go back there in innocence and expectation. I never want to repeat the angst and the pain… I would rather stay happy in my sixties.
I have all the mistakes behind me. I have the experience of the failures under my belt. I have the memories of the joys and the forgetting of the pain. I remember the power of my first sex and forget the anxiety before I had it. What is it like, though, to be young and free. Free of worry? Free of failure? Free of what… perhaps just free of being old and sad!
“You will never have the raw, animalistic energy you have in your 20s. […] Talk to any honest man my age or older. I feel great, yes, but 27 is like…You won’t know until you know.” —Mike Cernovich
That, surely, is the freedom of being young—the power and energy to do anything. That is what I miss, more than anything, “the raw, animalistic energy”.
The problem, for me, was that I did not realise that I had it. This is the issue that drives so much depression and addiction in young people. It is the expectation that you should be something, that life should be sorted out early on in your twenties.
Guess what… life never gets sorted out, it just seems that way. As you get older the walls close in and the pressure mounts—till it explodes into mid-life crisis.
“You got what you got, so you really got to make the most of it. […] If you have an idea of what you want to do in your future you must go at it with almost monastic obsession.” —Henry Rollins
If as a young person, especially a young man, you get the idea in your head that nothing needs to be anything, you can drive forward, achieve stuff and create mayhem. That is what young men are supposed to do. As you get into your thirties and forties, you understand the problems you create doing this and rein yourself in. You become responsible and start to hold back.
But in your twenties you should not understand that this view can even exist. Push forward and create.
“You must never lower yourself to being a person you don’t like.” —Henry Rollins
Henry Rollins is a powerful man who epitomises the crazy arrogance of youth. At the age of twenty he quit his job at Häagen-Dazs, sold his car, and moved to Los Angeles to become lead singer of the hard-core punk band that he loved, Black Flag.
One of the most impressive things about the kind of punk that Black Flag represented was the DIY ‘Punk Ethic’. This was the idea that you could do anything and that whatever you wanted you did yourself. The music business is reliant on exploitation, punk was a movement against the ethics of the mainstream. Lack of knowledge or ability was not seen as a hindrance to launching a career and putting out music.
This arrogant, ‘I know it all’, attitude is where so many creative ideas come from, without it we would all be the losers.
The problem with this attitude is the expectation that because you are amazing the world is going to fall at your feet. You feel you are producing your best work and that this sense of power will never come again. What is difficult to understand is that this period of your twenties, while being raw and exciting, is only a prelude to creativity that will rock your world.
“If you work really hard, you might be a ten-year overnight success. Far more likely is you’ll be a twenty-year overnight success.” —Mike Cernovich
It takes work, continual work, to get there. You need to power through the chaos of your twenties to even get a smell of success. There is a sense of entitlement today that success will fall into your lap. It is fueled by the ‘overnight’ success of people like Mark Zuckerberg who has only just turned thirty.
Believe me you are entitled to nothing. The energy, the hard work, the creativity are all part of the amazing joy of life, but they entitle you to nothing. Success has to be earned and not achieving it is not an excuse to stop and whine.
“I couldn’t have written my book before I did. I simply wasn’t capable of doing so, either as a writer or a person. To get to the point I had to get to to write my first book, I had to do everything I did in my twenties. I had to write a lot of sentences that never turned into anything and stories that never miraculously formed a novel. I had to read voraciously and compose exhaustive entries in my journals. I had to waste time and grieve my mother and come to terms with my childhood and have stupid and sweet and scandalous sexual relationships and grow up.” —Cheryl Strayed
In the end the power of achievement and success comes through the humility of realising that you need the experience and knowledge that only time can give you. The great breakthroughs just do not come overnight—they take time. there is a sense that success can only come through failure. Failure is how you learn, how you build in the bridges that speed up the results.
Cheryl Strayed talks about The Art of Motherfuckitude in writing. She says about being a motherfucker,
“A lot of people think that to be a motherfucker is to be a person who is the dominant figure. But I actually think that true motherfuckerhood … really has to do with being humble. And it’s only when you can get out of your own ego that you can actually do what is necessary to do—in a relationship, in your professional life, as a parent, in any of those ways. It has to do with humility—doing the work.” —Cheryl Strayed
In your twenties you all about ego, and that is how it should be. The ego that crashes through walls and steps over people.
“Growth is painful. But pain is coming anyway. Learning to embrace the pain as you grow will help you endure the pain when Hell arrives.” —Mike Cernovich
Only when you have suffered that ego can you learn the humility to sit down and do the work, do the internal work. The pain arrives, the doubt, the depression, but now you can learn how to ride it out, how to live with it. Now you can be powerful and create amazing success, because you learned to live through the chaos and the pain.
In the end what is essential is to take control of your own life, not to fall into the temptation to just follow a path dug by others. This can make your youth easy and even rewarding but it can inexorably lead to disillusion and the classic male mid-life crisis. Peter O’Connor in his book, Understanding the Mid-Life Crisis, talks about how,
“[..] the predominant feeling was one of resentment, unadulterated bitter resentment, coupled with a feeling of powerlessness and frustration. It was as if one were a marionette, moving to the strings of an unseen puppeteer.”
Do not ever let that happen, take control and live your youth as if it will never come back again—because it will not…
Further reading on ‘Being Young and Free’…
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