Back in 1996 (the year I graduated High School, btw) NPR started airing a segment by Radio Diaries, called “Teenage Diaries” which gave recording equipment to teenagers around the country to record their lives and thoughts for a year.
Recently, they’ve been doing follow ups with the initial participants as it’s been 17 years since they were 17 themselves. Obviously, when you hear of the existence of an audio time capsule dating to the same age you were at the time, you can’t help but be intrigued.
One of the teenagers, Melissa, had a baby that year which mirrors a friend of mine at the time. Actually, a few friends at the time, sadly. Listening to the recordings immediately takes me back to that time and place and reminds me of the feelings of uncertainty and confusion. What would their lives be like? What would the kids be like when they reached the same age? What the hell were we all thinking?
The most unsettling thing – or rather, the least expected – is how young they all sound. Despite the best attempts at appearing “grown up” they all come across as inherently uncertain and… very much like children, really.
Funny. Because growing up, I don’t think many of us thought of ourselves like children. We couldn’t wait to be adults and we thought we had a good handle on how to act that way. Perhaps “act” is the giveaway in that last sentence.
Personally, I have video recordings of my friends and I from various parties, and about 700 pages of notes collected from them during my High School years. In fact, a year ago when I moved, I took the time to organize them in chronological order. It’s all there: Loves lost and loves dreamt of that never happened, petty slights and minutiae of all sorts that are hard to recall. In a very real way, I have my own “Teenage Diaries” but it’s from all of my friends and what they were thinking; hopes, fears, posturing, pretending, achieving, regretting. So much weight for young minds and young hearts.
I’ve always been a fan of history since I was young, and maybe that’s why I’m drawn to this series, and why I kept all of that stuff in the first place. Notes between classes were always supposed to be throw away stuff – everyone else threw my notes away after all. Except for one ex-girlfriend who ceremoniously burned them in her fire place after some falling out. Friends would ask me why I kept them and I never had a great answer. “Maybe they’ll be important someday” or, “We’ll all want to read these!” but those were hopeful answers.
I now know the reason I kept all that stuff was to better understand myself and to hopefully understand “us” as a loose collection of friends. We’ve all grown up and out and rarely talk anymore, but I’m happy to report, we still talk. Those that matter most (and you never know who that is at the time) will always be there, time and time again. And it’s fun to share that history and look back and realize we didn’t have a clue. Not a real one anyway. We thought we knew who’d we become and what our lives would be like and virtually all of those predictions turned out wrong.
It’s an important lesson now to remember, as we look at the next 17 years. Who will we be at 51? As confident as we were then, I think it’s important to be reminded of the outcomes of our previous predictions as we make the next big decisions in our lives.
So, what’s the big take away? For me, it would be this: Beware hubris. Seek continuously to look at yourself through an honest lens. Don’t forget who you wanted to be and can still become. If that’s all I learned from this, then it’s an absolute fortune.
Oh, and one more thing: Don’t break up with an amazing young lady two days before prom – no matter the circumstances surrounding your own life situation.