When I headed off to college, I found myself slowly drowning. Sure, I’d learned a lot of life skills growing up: how to follow a recipe and clean up the house, how often I should see a doctor and dentist for periodic check ups, the basics on reading a map and driving a car, why eating vegetables was important, how to get myself to and navigate through an airport on my own, how to introduce myself to new people and make friends, as well as many more useful things.
Yet even with such skills in hand, I found myself struggling, feeling unsure, uncertain, and more and more convinced that I was failing at life. Somehow even the daily basics began to feel hard. I wondered where I had gone wrong. Falling deeper and deeper into worry, I began to drift, ultimately sliding into depression and eating disorders as I wondered again and again where I’d messed up.
Looking back now, I see I was on the verge of a next step in life learning: it was time to become my own main anchor, rather than continuing to rely on outside people or things (which can be helpful as our main anchors when we’re young, as we need support in learning to navigate our world, though ultimately it’s a role we need to take on for autonomy and happiness).
With the previously known boundaries and anchors of my parents, home, and high school farther away, it was time to learn to take the reins myself. I didn’t understand at the time that the bumps I was feeling were part of the learning process. It wasn’t that I was a failure or broken — it was that my old anchors were falling away and I was starting to build new ones (and it was going to take some time). I hadn’t messed up, nor was I broken and needing to be fixed; I was continuing on the road of growing up.
Becoming our own main anchor is one of the greatest skills we can gain as we navigate a life filled with change: changing people, jobs, communities, environments, and relationships. When we’re feeling solid and centered on the basics of who we are and what’s important to us, we’re much less likely to be toppled when the winds of change and new situations hit (which they will). And when they do, it’ll be easier to pick ourselves back up and continue on.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t people or environments that can’t be helpful anchors — they absolutely can. However, there will be times someone else is not there, or that an outside anchor changes. And if that’s our main anchor, we’ll be in for a rougher tumble because our hand-hold will be different and/or gone. However, when we’re our main anchor, the first internal responder for talking ourselves off a ledge and picking ourselves up when we fall, we’ll have a leg up in starting to recover more quickly when we tumble (and we will tumble — the magic is in spending less time down and getting back up quicker). The support from outside anchors will be a bonus that can help further speed up recovery when they’re available.
Perhaps some folks learn innately how to be their own anchors (and awesome if so). When that’s not the case, the good news is that anyone can learn to become their anchor at any time. For our teens, learning to become their own main anchor will make the transition into adulthood and beyond a lot more fun (and a lot less painful for everyone).
In the next few posts, we’ll take a look into real life skills to help our teens become their own main anchors.