Nobody asks me what my favorite animal is anymore.
I have a few: I like bears because I can draw them, leopards because they have spots and highland cows from Scotland because they’re cute and they look very friendly. I also happen to be pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the performing arts and taking my first tentative steps into adulthood.
As a young person starting to discover myself, one of the best things about getting older is feeling some — not all, but some — self-consciousness draining away. I still have hopes, dreams and fears about what other people think of me, and worries about the future, but I’m gradually gaining control of my own life.
According to Cover Three, our brains have entered the Formal Operational Stage between age 11 to adulthood. This is the stage in which we “hone [our] problem-solving skills and the type of person [we’re] going to become is made clear.”
Additionally, Cover Three says that between age 18-21, young people “[become] more self-assured” and start to make more serious, long-lasting decisions about what life will look like. While our decisions have higher stakes than when we were younger, we are still developing into ourselves, which means we are open to learning and experiencing new things.
Do you remember how when we were little kids, we were interested in so much cool stuff? My brother could name at least thirty dinosaurs on command. I would write little stories into my notebooks and dance around my living room to songs from “The Nutcracker.” At recess, my friends and I would play house, and pretend, and family, and horses and cats and every other animal.
Childhood is about discovery, play and curiosity. The whole world is new to us, and we jump from interest to interest with reckless abandon. Now, we suddenly have more freedom to pursue those interests in ways we haven’t before.
In all our schooling before college, we are forced to study things that may or may not interest us at all. Plenty of us spend time in classrooms with people who hate being there, and a cloud of judgment settles over the idea of learning.
Homework, stress and self-consciousness rattle our interests to the background, making us prioritize grades or peer approval over how many fascinating things the world offers to learn about. We put our tools of imagination aside in favor of trends and social media.
While our resources are still very limited, many of us have more of them now. By going to college, we have chosen to prioritize learning. By going to liberal arts college, we have chosen the opportunity to learn about a lot more than just our major. We can take classes about things that have always interested us, if we look for them.
We also have more agency to try new experiences and learn from them. A lot of times when I hear people talk about that, they’re talking about dating, expensive travel or moving out. Those can be quite overwhelming, so maybe let’s start smaller.
Visit a planetarium. Take a hike and look at the birds. Go to the zoo. If you’re feeling ambitious and happen to have some gas money, go to Denver and look at the dinosaur fossils. Draw a silly picture. Who cares if it’s perfect? You created something.
Like young children, we need to give ourselves space to play and enjoy learning about cool stuff. Not just important stuff, or financial stuff or business stuff — cool stuff. We’re entering a new world that can be big and scary sometimes, but it’s also full of beautiful things that make it worthwhile. Nurture your inner scared little kid by teaching them things that bring them joy.
So, what’s your favorite animal? I know you have one.
Photo courtesy of unsplash.com.