Rethinking the Coming-of-Age

We all have our stories of youth and growing up. But what’s really so unique about yours?

Image by Meghann Feldwieser from Pixabay
Image by Meghann Feldwieser from Pixabay

here’s many a phrase in my native Korean language that I know the definitions of, but not their nuances quite well enough. One of these are frequently used by my mother: “cheol deulda,” whose two meanings are: to be mature; or rather irrelevantly: to be at the right time.

It was a concept that was used commonly by adults referencing my peer’s certain, more adult-like behaviors, enough to poke at my childhood competitiveness. I struggled to get this badge of honor, an exclusive club of “mature” people — I wanted to be an adult, because being mature meant being ahead, and being special.

I find myself in the perfectly right time to discuss the teen-ness of these views as I try to forge myself a facade of adult-ness, to consider the core components of being one while working to be one. One increasingly notices that being an adult, though, has little to do with being ahead, but more with being more. You rarely understand others — instead you merely muster peace in yourself just enough to tolerate them, and even occasionally, find them pleasant. You learn quickly that those you like won’t like you back, and those that return the favor seem far-in between (another quirk of the younger mind’s propensity, especially, to fall in love). A sense of unfairness emerges, a frustration at the world seemingly constructed precisely for your inconvenience. It’s dangerous to fall into this trap — yet many do, wading the waters of weariness that draws dangerously destructive habits that seem mediocre in hindsight, but are truly heartbreaking at face value.

It’s the navigation through these complex, implied, and socially constructed cues of emotion that causes much of the trouble in teen-hood — we’re engrained to socialize, but we’re ill-informed on how to include others in life and also promote peace. We don’t know yet that society exists for our benefit; that other people do indeed care, just in a roundabout way; that many people do want good, but don’t exactly know how.

Skepticism is of course essential, but with it comes a certain confidence, that navigating these unpredictable and unbelievable, chaotic yet scenic nuances of life, is a possibility.

As this child experiences one realization after another, they gather in their growing silos of grey-matter some tips and tricks, the profound emotions or simple pleasantries that once accumulated, form the foundation. Moments of maturity emerge when they achieve this hindsight, not looking back at these crystalized concepts in vain, but rather as points of beauty or peace, a necessary step sometimes, to reach their current self. Skepticism is of course essential, but with it comes a certain confidence, that navigating these unpredictable and unbelievable, chaotic yet scenic nuances of life, is a possibility.

These experiences and emotions tend to — especially as they are so crucial to one’s character — present themselves as deliberate and proactive. These realizations seem too private to be universal; too important that it must have been a unique conclusion I must have drawn from my specific set of experiences, capabilities, and intellectual talents. This, naturally, cannot be true, because the world is fortunately filled with people that, having gone through the turmoils of teen-hood themselves, form a common sense implied in each cultural definition of maturity.

maybe that’s why we all love these coming-of-age stories — it feels personal, to everyone.

Then it wouldn’t be a leap to say that growing up is a more passive process that we imagine — in this case, taking the phrase “coming of age” quite literally, of maturity a trait that naturally comes to you through the inevitable qualms and internal debates, of experiences unique yet realizations universal, and maybe that’s why we all love these stories — it feels personal, to everyone. A generic youth may exist, that we can codify into a certain value system that your culture adopts as their definition of youth, and with enough of these in your bag you qualify as an adult. We acknowledge each other’s maturity with implied phrases and quick gestures, that we are “sensible adults,” — it seems like there’s a secret society of adulthood, where these secrets that only come, necessarily come, with time.

It’s no doubt then, that this “maturity” thing is a big achievement. Some might have taken more circuitous routes, others gold-laden paths, but we reconvene; opinions may differ and arguments arise, but we may only do that with the confidence that the person arguing, talking, nodding, and shouting have had at least, a reasonably similar length of time to experience one of these paths, the agony and frustrations, the realizations and peace. This may be the most basic of emphathies that we can afford — and we are lucky enough that this opportunity of maturity is not unequally distributed or subject to discrimination. The opportunity to mature, thankfully, hasn’t much more meaning than to experience enough time, and to reach the right time. Then I realize, that phrase mother used to say, isn’t really that complicated after all.

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Pyokyeong Son

Korean, in Japan, studying at America. Undergraduate Duke University Student. pyoky.me