She talked about an uneasiness she had in her college years, which she thought was more than just being young. It made me think about how adolescence has always been associated with restlessness. Every teenager, over time, begins to experience their own thoughts, a need for some freedom from parental authority, and the ability to express themselves.
Adolescence is uncomfortable, awkward, and frustrating. It’s like being stuck in a middle airplane seat with no legroom and no freedom to stretch out. The person next to you has fallen asleep with their head on your shoulder, and you’re screaming inside your head, longing to be unencumbered and free to do whatever you want.
The restlessness of adolescence is part of growing up. It’s not just about the desire to do what you want. It’s also about realizing that responsibility comes with age and is married to accountability. In other words, an adolescent is no longer just a child to be looked after but someone who will have to stand on their own. It’s not solely about individualism but more about becoming accountable to others.
The idea that growing up is about getting more of what you want seems to be a common interpretation these days. And the restlessness that comes from wanting what you want but knowing, deep down, that you must be accountable, permeates our culture right now. Perpetual adolescence is highlighted by pleasure-seeking, sloth, and angst, while maturity is about discovering a much deeper meaning combined with remarkable accountability.
Over time, it’s become evident that neither vocational success nor material wealth can quench our inner thirst for meaning. The world is replete with examples of famous and financially successful individuals who are deeply unhappy. Despite their wealth, they feel a void, an unfulfilled need for something more. Don’t get me wrong, seeking financial success is not wrong, but believing it brings true enrichment is flawed. As the 20th century dawned, Americans were arguably the most optimistic people globally. The rise of industry, mass production, and distribution seemed to promise an end to poverty. We believed that, given time, every person on earth could have their basic needs met. We hoped that advances in medicine would eradicate disease, and new inventions would provide leisure for cultural pursuits and self-reflection.
As Marshall wrote so long ago, “What we write and say about ourselves reveals that we believe ourselves not so much citizens of a republic, but a body of consumers. The difference is significant. As citizens of a republic, we would still be concerned with the national destiny, with our individual creativity, with what we could contribute to our time. As consumers, we have become a nation of takers, frantically scrambling to get ours while there is anything left to take. Instinctively we know that this is a diminishing proposition: ‘out there’ somewhere is point zero, extermination—unless we can find a way for man once again to control his own science and technology.”
Amazing to think that decades ago, the same concerns existed. Most people unconsciously adopted a philosophy that material success and scientific progress were the ultimate goals. We believed, then and now, that our faith in money and science could explain and measure all reality.
Just like an adolescent overcomes restlessness through accountability, hard work, and service to others, we all have the opportunity to grow. History shows that we have consistently dealt with the potential “end of the world” fears. And when stuff happens, we tend to blame outside forces for our pain. But it is those who look inward and commit to impacting others through a bigger purpose who make a difference.
I have been concerned that individualism, perpetual adolescence, and the narcissistic narrative of governing bodies are leading us to a dark place. But, I know that it also makes those of us who believe in something bigger than ourselves stronger. I am more encouraged than ever before about the opportunity that exists for people who have the will to seek a higher level of consciousness and understanding by uplifting others.
It is a great time to be alive.
Happy New Year
NOTE: Hey, join me and my friends at The PrintSmart Summit on May 7, 2024, in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s going to be an amazing event with speakers from Google, IBM, the AI Institute, and Pandata. This summit is in the spirit of growth and seeing opportunity in the face of things that make us nervous, like AI. Seats are limited to this exclusive event, so jump on it now.