Features Muse

Youth is wasted on the young, etc.

Neve Iredale briefly explores the title phrase and what it means to someone in their twenties.

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Image Credit: Neve Iredale

Most existentialism passes me by. Movies laced with self-reflection in every scene bore me, and introspective literature simply doesn’t meet my gaze. The title phrase, however, has stuck with me. I remember the first time I heard it, and how strongly it resonated with my parents as they attempted to explain it in a way I would understand. Since then, I’ve wrestled with its meaning and come to no conclusive settlement; paradoxical in nature, it serves to be explored rather than completely understood and consumed. What follows is just that.

I am never going to be as beautiful as I am right now. My metabolism will never be as fast, my skin will never be as firm, and my lips never as full. And yet, this is a time that myself and my peers are so deeply affected by beauty standards. Many more poignant and scientific people have outlined the damaging effects of social media on self-esteem, I needn’t go into it too deeply. From the imagery on your cereal box to the songs on the radio – the rhetoric surrounding beauty and all it encompasses is completely inescapable. Any attempt to block out the noise would leave you essentially isolated.

The rise and prominence of social media means that some of the most damaging messages we consume are in the palm of our hands and carefully disguised as something far more innocent. Minimal respite from engineered adverts and airbrushed holiday snaps leaves a jarring amount of room for self-judgement, self-deprecation, and comparison. To compare and to feel less-than, however, is surely a terrible waste of time. That’s what the phrase ought to mean, at least in part.

Ignorance is bliss. Perhaps youth is glorious because it is plagued with a sense of naïvety. Writing at 20 years old with an inevitable bachelor’s degree at my disposal, I have my ‘whole life ahead of me’. The sentiment grows tired when you hear it so often, but I remind myself of its significance when I feel somewhat stagnant. More to the point though, I’m living in blissful ignorance: unaware of the hurdles I might face on the way to my dream job; unaware of a lot of very real, very scary, financial obligations; unaware of the potential for life to be banal, cruel, or unjust. Youth and ignorance are so closely tied, such that I feel completely out of my depth casting my mind into the future in these sentences. Hopefully I trade my ignorance for wisdom.

Lastly, to really drive the pessimism home – the subject of mortality. Youth comes with a sense of fearlessness, even if we’re not completely aware of it. The list of people we’re responsible for is likely small, and consequences are more likely to be temporary. Nothing lasts forever, but the end is also nowhere in sight, nor is it frightening.

I’ve stared at this phrase for four months now. At first I found it endearing, hence the notion to write about it. I’ve begun to really detest it, probably because of how it makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong. I probably am. More importantly though, the time I’ve spent trying to understand this phrase, and put it into words I’m satisfied with, has ingrained in me some fundamentally useful philosophies: to accept things as they are, to waste as little time as possible, and to seize every opportunity I’m lucky enough to have.

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