How can I stop being naive?

I’m 22 but I don’t feel like an adult.

Life is all one big learning experience, says our elder. Stay optimistic and you’ll become better at judging people and situations in time.


Dear EWC

Hello, thank you for reaching out to this letter. I am having trouble making myself valuable. I am embarrassed of the person I am at this point and I am working hard on changing that. I am 22, but I am far from an adult. The good things I’ve got going on is that I am in college again because I want to become a nurse and to help people when they’re at a critical/weak point in their lives. I am sure about this career too, but I keep having trouble with my personality. I trust in people too much, I still enjoy kids’ movies and I have been told that It is foolish that I try to look for the good in everyone. In a way, that can be a good thing but there is only so much that you can trust before you’re taken advantage of. It almost happened to me not too long ago, yet I still hope to trust in people. How do I stop being naive? What are some good ways to grow fortitude? Thanks again for reading my letter and I hope you have the most positive day you can.


William replies

I’m glad that you are asking for advice. We’re not professionals, just volunteers who apply our decades of experience to issues that often confound younger people. Here’s what I think.

I don’t believe you ought to label yourself as far from an adult. What is an adult, and at what age do we become one? In my view, there are many ways to define when one is an adult, and I also feel it varies significantly from person to person. There is the legal age, be it 18, 21 or whatever set by the jurisdiction in which we live. That’s just a legal definition that authorities and governments use to define when we’re allowed to do something, be it vote, drive, drink alcohol, etc. It’s not a measure of maturity, knowledge, wisdom, or any of the variables that make us genuine “adults.” Some psychologists say our brains are still rapidly developing to age 25. I don’t necessarily agree with that number. I feel we are always growing, and the term adult is a hard target to nail down. Throughout life, we are still learning and maturing, so picking an age where one magically goes from child/teen to adult is a waste of time other than for legal reasons. At age 22, some people may be married with 2-3 kids and working full time — others are still partying and trying to figure out what they want to do with themselves. Most are somewhere in between. My first bit of advice is to not look for a numeric age, but rather a “feeling” of adulthood.

Regardless of where you fall on this vague age scale, you sound to me like an intelligent, caring young person. The movies we watch, or the games we play, etc., are not an indication of maturity. I’m retired in my 60s, and I still watch some of the same movies and TV shows as my children, who are in their 20s. Does that mean I’m not an adult? Don’t get hung up on that word.

Let’s move on to your specific dilemma. You feel you are naive and that people take advantage of you. Few people ever reach the point where they can be 100 percent sure their judgment and ability to ‘read’ others’ intentions is always right. No one can read the minds or intentions of a slick talker or be sure they are trustworthy. We all get ‘used’ by selfish people from time to time. With experience, we get better at minimizing this, but even people my age make judgment errors. Some people have fooled me and taken advantage of me from time to time throughout my whole life. It still happens occasionally, but as every year goes by, I get better at making wise choices. In other words, we learn by our mistakes. Also, the world and society are ever-changing, and what would have been the right decision 10-20 years ago might be the opposite in 2020. Don’t let being taken advantage of by someone or some group discourage you from trying again. Whatever happened in the past, while it may have jaded you, hasn’t stopped you from deciding to go back to college. As a nurse, you will be doing what seems to be your nature – helping others who need assistance. The world needs more people like you!

Probably the best way to build courage/fortitude is, like improving many other character traits, via practice and optimism. Don’t let failure or being sucked in by slick talkers discourage you from trying again. The old saying “That which doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger” is correct. Being exploited or being used hurts. When things like that happen, we can only learn from it and become able to recognize the signs early on the next time. Every time we identify a warning sign, we reduce the odds of being used by avoiding the potential problem. We learn to say no to bothersome situations and identify troublesome people. It won’t happen overnight, but you’ll find yourself developing a gut feeling that something isn’t right, and you’ll avoid it. That’s where the optimism comes in. Every time you head off potential trouble, you become more confident in your ability to see problems coming. You’ll never become perfect at it, but you will become pretty darn good at it!

The last thing I want to address is trust. When I was your age, the world had its share of charlatans, thieves, and liars. However, most people could be trusted. Maybe part of it was because I grew up in a relatively small town where we knew most everyone, or at least knew their background. When people have to live with the consequences of their actions, they soon learn that “a person’s word is their bond” follows them. They knew if they didn’t treat others fairly and honestly, they lost not only the trust of the one they fooled but of everyone who heard about it. I suppose it was a form of peer pressure to do the right thing, but it mostly worked. We knew who to trust and who not to trust. We made mistakes, but not often. I won’t go on about the past, but I will say in 2020, dignity and self-respect that kept most people honest are dwindling. Why this is so is hard to define. The anonymity of the internet is a factor. Some people claim the decline of religious beliefs is also a factor. We seem to be ‘taken over’ by political and business leaders who have little to no ethics. There are likely dozens of other reasons. All of this dribbles down through society to a point where honesty, trust, and keeping your good name/reputation is not essential to many. It’s created a moral minefield, in my opinion.

We can’t change this overnight, if at all. Maybe it will become the new normal, or perhaps it’s a temporary dip in morality. Either way, I return to my main point of advice. Don’t become discouraged, and don’t lose your optimism that, regardless of what society throws at you, every day, you’ll become a bit better at judging situations and the intentions of others.

While all of the above is a rather lengthy response, I can summarize it in a reasonably simple way:

Becoming an adult is not very tightly tied to your biological age, and your confidence and ability to avoid being used will improve over time. We all go through this as we mature, and it’s a never-ending learning experience.

Article #: 454025

Category: Self-Improvement

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