Friday, October 14, 2011

Age vs. Experience

I have been alive for 284,496 hours since I first took my first breath. I bet my parents can remember those first few hours of my life, or those early hour feedings, or the hours I spent crying after someone hurt my feelings. But when I look at the number of hours I've been alive, I think, "Wow, that doesn't seem like all that much," seeing that the average person has 723,000 hours available to them to do with what they'd like. So what is age really? Does age matter?

Over the last two months, I've really given some deep thought into how much age plays in life - whether it be personally, professionally, emotionally, or mentally. How much does someone who is 5 have in common with someone who is 10? How much does someone who is 25 have in common with someone who is 35? How much does external circumstance influence a persons "mental" age compared to their "actual" age?

According to studies, up until the age of 5 years old, the child inside of us has learned how to attach to others for emotional security, explore by through curiosity, assert ones self in their identity by becoming secure in the sense of who he or she is, and begin to become competent in his or her own sense of personal power in order to achieve something greater. Each of these stages happens at a different age level, but each is so important in order to build off of the other. If one step gets neglected, the child is essentially "stuck" at that mentality until he or she works through it. (Thus the reason all of us need to be in counseling because let's face it, none of our parents were perfect, and we as current or future parents aren't going to be perfect!) It isn't until ages 7-13 years old that we develop a sense of sympathy, care, and concern for others, and ages 13-19 years old to integrate that into the ability to love and be responsible to ourselves and society. Deep stuff.

My earliest memory is probably at the age of 2 years old. We lived in a little house in Minnesota. There are three specific things I remember about that house - my dad had built a play set for me, the red barn in the back right hand corner of the backyard, and a garden in the far left hand corner. I remember squatting down in my two year old overalls next to my dad in the garden as he taught me all about potatoes and how they grew under the ground and compared them to carrots since they grew under the ground, too. I remember him letting me pull up one carrot - even though it was too early for it to be pulled. I remember the leafy green top being very luscious and looked as though from the top it was ready to be pulled, however once I pulled it out, the carrot was probably only two inches long and very skinny. My dad knew it wasn't time for it to be pulled, but he allowed me to explore my curiosity. It's amazing to me that I can remember that early back.

But during these 284,496 hours of life that I've lived, not all of them have been good memories. Naturally as a human being, I've had pain, disappointment, and loneliness in my life. Feelings of abandonment, feelings of not being good enough, and feelings of anger, rage, and hatred. Sometimes, these feelings have happened all at the same time! I don't feel, however, that these "wounds" have limited my life. In fact, I honestly don't think my age reflects the knowledge that I've gained from these experiences. There may be things that I now have to do to compensate for things that have happened in my life, but it doesn't mean that I'm not able to continue on. It doesn't mean that I have to be "stuck" at that level or be put in a category because of something that happened to me.

You see, my dad knew it was too early to pull the carrot up from the garden. But in order for me to learn that there is a growth period for carrots to be full and mature, he had to allow me to explore. Was the carrot inedible? Absolutely not! It was actually just the right size for my two year old self! :) But many lessons can be brought about from that simple example. Sometimes our curiosity brings us down a path that may or may not be a healthy choice, but it still can result in good depending on how you look at it. Though the carrot was small, it was still edible. Was it enough for a salad? No. But I learned. At the time, my dad was probably in his early 30's, but he gave me a chance. He loved me, taught me, protected me, and cared about teaching me even though I may have been disappointed that the carrot didn't look like the ones I had seen in the grocery store. At that time, I remember looking up at him with a confused look on my face as he simply said, "It's okay," and explained to me why it was so little. Age didn't matter in that moment. I'm sure I taught him something, too.

I've heard it said that with age comes wisdom. I'm not so sure about that, to be honest. There are a lot of people older than myself who are dumber than dirt. Sorry, but it's true. And there are some who have all the papers and degrees in the world saying they are smart, but they don't know how to treat people with kindness and dignity. And then there are others who are younger than me who have taught me how to be a better person, shared with me the hurts of their past, and shown me how they've overcome them. Age, in my opinion, doesn't matter. Experience is what matters to me.

What have you done with the hours you've had available to you? Have you wasted them away? Have you paid it forward to someone else? Have you allowed your experiences to help or hinder you? I'd rather be around people who have had horrible pasts but are wiser because of them and use their hurts for the good of others - despite their age - than people who have every degree in the world but don't have compassion in their heart.

Allow yourself to reach out to others if you need help (forget the "you have to be strong on your own" stuff), explore new things or ideas and find out for yourself if it's what you believe (rather than believing it just because someone "said so"), learn how to assert yourself in what you find (rather than being aggressive and combative), and know that you can overcome hurdles in your life that were once painful. Through this process, I believe you'll learn how to love and how to have compassion for others, regardless of age, and become a responsible person. I know I have.

Age vs. Experience? I vote for experience.

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." Henry David Thoreau