I was walking out of court this morning when I passed approximately 10 high school students coming out of a small convenience store. There were roughly five boys and five girls in the group, and they appeared to be around 14-15 years old. I didn’t really notice or pay much attention to the group except that I noticed one of the girls had a large bag of Cheetos; the bright orange bag stood out to me. As I continued to pass the group, I noticed that every single one of the girls had Cheetos. They all had the same size bag of Cheetos; the big bag, not the smaller individual bags. And they all had their bags open, eating their Cheetos.
I find it highly unlikely that each girl had an individual hankering for a large bag of Cheetos this morning. Instead, I suspect what happened was that one girl got a large bag of Cheetos and the others followed her lead. But why?
It could be that none of the other girls really wanted anything in particular, so they just kind of went with what they saw their friend do. If you think about it, that’s kind of how many of us ended up in where we are in life. We graduated high school or college and didn’t really have anything we wanted to do or know what we should do, so we just did what everyone else was doing. We followed others because we lacked our own direction. For others, we had direction in our careers, but when we got married or had children, we didn’t have clear direction for those relationships, so we ended up doing what we saw everyone else do.
Another explanation is that some of those girls really wanted something else in that store. They wanted a candy bar, or snack crackers, or a bag of peanuts, or a different type of potato chips. They knew what they wanted. But, they picked the Cheetos because they didn’t want to seem weird to their friends. In short, they didn’t have the guts to get what they really wanted.
We do that as well. We don’t go after the life we want because we don’t want to seem weird to our friends or those in our social circle. We don’t want to be the guy that everyone else talks about. Part of us would rather be in the circle talking about the weird guy. So we settle for a life that’s approved by others rather than pursuing the life we want.
If you read Manhood and The Hero’s Journey, you’ll remember the quote by the poet E.E. Cummings that “it takes courage to grow up and become who you really are”. I love the simple truth of that quote. While discovering who we “really are” is a journey that takes a lifetime for most of us, it’s also true that most of us know that we need to make changes if we’re going to live the life we want. And it will take courage to make those changes. It may seem trivial to us, but it takes courage for teenage girls looking for their place in the world and for approval from their friends to make choices that go against the grain, regardless of how small. And it takes courage for us to take the steps necessary to turn a good life to a great one. While perfect may be the enemy of good, good is the enemy of great.
I don’t know who you are. You might be the person who’s doing what everyone else is doing because you don’t have any real direction of your own. Or you might be the person who’s doing it because you don’t have the courage to pursue what you want. My guess is that most of us are some mixture of the two: we aren’t sure what we want and we’re a bit afraid to make any changes.
I’m there with you. But I’ve resolved to be courageous and to pursue the life I want, other people’s opinions be damned. And I’ll be able to look my wife and kids in the eye throughout it all and tell them I’m going on a journey that will give life to our years. Who’d have thought that we could learn so much from teenage girls?