Don’t Be Afraid to Be a Jackass

Have you ever seen the movie Serendipity? The movie stars John Cusack as Jonathan Trager and Kate Beckinsale as Sara Thomas. I love that film. It’s one of my guilty pleasures. It’s a rom-com about a couple who met by accident, and felt an instant attraction to each other. Four years later, days before his wedding to someone else, Trager begins a search for this mysterious woman, Sara, because he has to know for sure if she’s the one. At the same time, Sara searches for Jonathan.

serendipityimageDean Kansky, played by Jeremy Piven, is Trager’s best friend. (Piven also happens to be Cusack’s best friend in real life.) While searching for the mystery woman, Kansky tells Trager he’s a jackass  and goes on to quote Epictetus; “be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” Trager doesn’t care how searching for a strange woman on the eve of his wedding appears. His heart leads the mission logic cannot defy.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live our lives as jackasses? Not to worry about what other people think or how they might be judging us. A benefit to getting older is having the ability to care less about the opinions of others; to throw caution to the wind, to coin a phrase, and finally understand life is what we make of it. To live a fulfilled life, we must not worry about being foolish or stupid, but run through the sprinklers with wild abandon, with the sun on our backs, the grass between our toes, and laughter in the air.

Guess who can’t follow Epictetus’ advice? Teenagers. (And a few adults, but let’s talk about the teens for a moment because they can’t help themselves. The adults – well, that’s another story.)

I’m in the thick of raising teens, and like every stage of parenthood, this one has its pluses and challenges. Here’s one of the challenges: teens spend an exorbitant amount of time worrying how others perceive their behavior. They believe the whole world is watching them, because they have magnifiers and bright lights pointed on themselves. They worry that the world around them will judge them; tell them they aren’t good enough, smart enough, fast enough, strong enough.

Truth is, no one is paying that much attention because they’re busy worrying about what other people think of them. One of my favorite quotes by Eleanor Roosevelt:

You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do. 

Teens just don’t understand that. I feel badly for them. They worry about things that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of life, but matter a whole lot to them. If they could let go of the fear, they’d probably enjoy the ride a lot more. (Again, same applies to adults.)

But teens have to be teens. They make decisions based on emotion and not logic or reasoning. So, when I’m trying to be logical with my teens about something that is purely emotional to them, I lose.

I’m learning not to argue. They have to come to their decisions in their own way, and that’s a life lesson for them. Soon they will be out in the world all by themselves and I won’t be there to wave logic in their faces like pom-poms. “This way. Look over here. Pay attention to my wisdom.” I want to shout, but can’t. Their lives. Their choices. I’m only the GPS if they need me. And they need me less and less.

Often I find myself thinking, I’d love to go back to being a teenager with the knowledge I have now. I’d have the great time I was too afraid to have back then. And often, I find myself wanting to say to my teens, “don’t be afraid to be a jackass.”

Since I can’t go back, alas, then I have to live the example now that I want for my teens. Be fearless in the face of fear. Be willing to be thought foolish and stupid. Have a blast.

Are you a jackass?

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5 thoughts on “Don’t Be Afraid to Be a Jackass

  1. Yep. I learned from dealing with my own niece throughout her teenage years that logic won’t win you any points, and it certainly won’t win an argument. Teenagers operate from a purely emotional place (hence the reason it’s such a miserable stage in life)!

    I love Serendipity, too — that movie shouldn’t work but somehow does — and I love its message: “be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” One of the great joys of my adult life is living now how I wish I’d lived as a teenager: I make no apologies for who I am. It’s better to be authentic than to be liked. That’s just as true of being a person as it is of being an artist (something I’m going to discuss in tomorrow’s post).

    Part of the reason teenagers have a hard time being authentic — why they try so desperately to conform to social trends and norms — is because they don’t yet know who they are; that’s important to keep in mind when dealing with them. All that angst stems from the uncertainty of not knowing who you are, or your place in the world, or what’s going to happen to you. You’d be a maelstrom of emotion, too, if you were wrestling with all of that! So when your own teenagers send you sprinting for the liquor cabinet, Stacey, just remember that your logic is no tonic for their uncertainty. They just have to get to a place of self-assurance when they get there. At least you’ll be there to meet them when they arrive!

    1. Why do you think Serendipity shouldn’t work? Love to hear your thoughts on that.

      You’re right about teens trying to figure out their space in the world and struggling with that. The teen years are a time where the teen wants to separate from his/her parents and become an individual outside the family. As that teen gets closer to the moment when they must jump ship, so to speak, anxieties run high even if they don’t realize it.

      Our society also puts a lot of pressure on our teens to perform well academically, athletically, socially. All of that added to the inability to use logic makes for a bit of a tornado of emotions. Which is why, I save my advice giving and my logical reasoning for the very special moments. Choose your battles, as they say.

      And part of my job is to allow them to make their own decisions. They have to be able to trust their judgement when I’m not around. If I constantly interfere with their choices, they won’t know how to make an important decision when the time comes.

      1. I suppose that given how contrived the central premise of Serendipity is, it’s miraculous the screenplay emerged as something far more resonant and charming than the usual groan-inducing made-for-Hallmark Christmas offering. The story hinges on so many acts of fate and “near-misses” that the script/movie shouldn’t really be as suspenseful and emotionally engaging as it is. It’s possible the movie just opened at the right time, too: I recall seeing it with my wife, just weeks after we moved to L.A. — on September 11, 2001, of all days — and perhaps its innocence and reassurances that “fate works in mysterious ways” was the message a deeply wounded and grieving nation needed to hear at that moment. I certainly have fond memories of it. It’s hard to believe it’s as old as it is!

        Spot-on observation about teenagers: They want to be individuals, distinct from the family that is so germane to their own identity, and yet they’re wrestling (whether they’re aware of it or not) with the separation anxiety that comes with knowing they’ll soon leave the nest. But, yeah: All you can do is choose your battles, offer the best advice you have to give, and then let them make their own decisions. My wife and I have struggled watching our own niece make decisions — against our advice — that we’re sure she’ll come to regret when she’s our age, but what can you do? It’s their life. If you try to force them down a road they don’t want to go, they’ll only resent you for it. Better they live with the consequences of their decisions than yours.

  2. Stacey, super blog! I read all that you post but I don’t often have the time to comment. This one is so true and too bad we can’t just be ourselves. Some adults are still in the teen stage having never progressed.
    I read about your new new pubs coming out, in a previous blog. Best to you! Karen Belli

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