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You say one thing, but you mean another: What do adults really want?

Adults really need to get it together.

No, really. We teens could fill a book with the amount of expectations they give us.

And for a while now, we’ve just been eating it up. When we’re asked to tell the truth, we tell it. When we’re told to be ourselves, we are ourselves (whatever that means). And when we’re told to work hard to be successful, we do it.

But have we ever really stopped to think about what this really means? Have we ever considered the seemingly irreconcilable paradoxes that these expectations create?

We’re told to tell the truth, but we don’t go around telling people the rude truth of what we may or may not think about them. (Think of the possible consequences!) We’re told to be ourselves, but are judged constantly for the way we speak, dress and conduct ourselves. We’re told to work hard (implicitly, by the amount of homework we’re assigned), but then are exhorted to sleep well and strive for balance.

It all seems so frustrating and confusing, especially on those super-late nights during which only coffee seems to sustain your will to live. But then, the thought pops into your mind: adults can’t possibly have it so wrong. You’d think they’d have learned something in the umpteen years they’ve been around.

Maybe embracing this ambiguity is an essential part of being a mature adult. For us high-schoolers—especially our class of soon-graduating seniors—adulthood is just a few short months away (surprise!). And once we’re on our own in the real world, we’re going to have to learn that life isn’t always so black and white.

Adulthood isn’t defined so much by turning 18, getting your full driver’s license, drinking alcohol for the first time or any other single experience. It’s defined by your ability to embrace that grey area and figure out how to straddle that middle ground.

The reason adults have seemingly contradictory expectations for us is to prepare us for the “real world.” If they didn’t, the demands of surviving there would hit us like a truck.

The adults in your life insist that you balance academics with extracurriculars and sleep because someday, you will likely have to balance not only a job, but also perhaps a spouse and your mortgage and your children and your health. Oh, and don’t forget bills, too.

The adults in your life tell you to be yourself but stay in line because they want you to be able to stand out as an individual, but still be able to navigate social groups and situations with grace and etiquette.

But how do we deal with these mixed signals here and now? Simple: take the time to think about them.

How do you get your homework done and still get sleep? Your own personal equilibrium—the degree to which you take this ambiguity—is unique to you and only you. You know yourself best; you and you alone must figure out how much you can and can’t do. And when you do, you’ll be rewarded with performance at your highest potential.

Once we, as teenagers, learn to deal with this ambiguity, we’ll be well on our way to coming into our own as adults. But let’s be real: it’s really us teenagers that need to get it together.


Image Credits: Kristen Kim