It Doesn’t Get Better — You do

Prague, Czech Republic. Photo by Lee Key via Unsplash

I didn’t have a great childhood. I was adopted at a very young age into a family that couldn’t be further from the loving, supportive environment that I needed. I was very different from my family and that flared tempers.

My childhood wasn’t exactly the American Dream.

At one point, when I was 17, I was so distraught over what was happening to me in my personal life that I gave up on school, on friends, on everything. I didn’t see the reason for trying to graduate high school. I didn’t see a reason to keep friends around.

I was depressed and looking for any reason to see the light at the end of the tunnel that was my childhood.

So I went to the only person I knew that might be able to help me: my Chemistry teacher in high school. George Bailey had been my mentor in high school since I first became friends with his daughter when I was a sophomore. And I figured if he would have any words that might make me see my situation differently, it would be Mr Bailey.

“Well, look,” he said, looking at me like he was Gandalf giving Frodo some epic advice, “it gets better.”

He sat back in his chair and smiled. He looked like he’d just given me the keys to my freedom.

I nodded my head and tried to smile, but in my head I was lost.

It gets better? What kind of advice is that?

I waited for him to tell me more, but that was all he had. It gets better. He said to sit tight and pray for things to change. He never gave me actionable advice of what to do about my living situation.

So I didn’t listen to him.

Instead, I waited another two years and then moved to New York City. I’ve never looked back. While it took my a while to get myself together, I’m following my dreams. I’m in a great situation. I’m finally in a place I never would have been if I had listened to my mentor.

I thought back then, and still do to this day, that saying “It gets better” isn’t advice. It didn’t actually help me. It was just a sentence. It had no meaning, because after ten years of distance, this is what I’ve learned:

It doesn’t get better. You do.

I firmly believe that It Gets Better can be comforting, but only for a while. It gives people hope that their situation will change.

It usually doesn’t.

People in those situations change, though. They become stronger. They take action to change their situation.

In my mind, saying “It Gets Better” takes agency away from a person. You’re telling someone they don’t have the capacity to change their lives, that they have to wait for the world to change first.

Sometimes that’s true. I mean, it took us until just last year to pass the Marriage Equality Act, and that was decades in the making.

In a lot of cases, like mine, it isn’t true. It Gets Better didn’t help me. It frustrated me. I made the choice on my own that if things weren’t going to get better, I was going to change and make things better. I was going to take action.

I get it. People don’t know what to say when someone is going through a hard time. They want to comfort that person. And “It Gets Better” can help.

It can truly help someone in despair or doesn’t know whether their situation gets better or worse.

Just remember to follow up “It Gets Better” with actions a person can take. Don’t leave them thinking the world happens to them; remind them that they can affect the world they live in.