The only way it is possible to waste being 17 is to wish that you were 18.
When you’re very young, the world is full of atmospheres instead of objects. Think about what memories of childhood are like. They’re memories of how things felt, rather than records of what happened. The red and white dimples that carpet pile presses into your bare knees. How burps smell after you’ve accidentally swallowed pool water. The static electricity that hisses and ticks as you drag your finger across the screen of a television tube. These grains of experience evaporate into the aura of what it was like to be a kid.
Then you get older. The cloud you lived in as a kid starts to fall as hail. Think about how the act of picking a movie changes. When you’re seven, the aura and excitement of WATCHING A MOVIE creeps like a fog into the act of picking one out and it almost doesn’t matter which you choose. Ten years later and you’re weighing this film against that film, comparing tenths of an IMDb star, noticing how Lindsay Lohan doesn’t look like a scuffed Barbie in it, etc.
Life starts to turn dry. The grains of experience no longer evaporate. Instead they collect into little drifts. Lots of people get stuck here. For them the drifts turn into dunes and the dunes turn their lives into a desert of happenstance.
These are the people who need a form to give their life a shape. The same way you pack beach sand into a bucket and flip it over to turn out a cylinder. (It goes without saying that this is what’s happening when you get excited after you’ve bought something.)
The point is that growing up is all too often growth in the wrong direction.
But which other way is there?
About two years before he died, Wittgenstein was talking to somebody who asked him how he could admire a person like (Cardinal) John Henry Newman, who believed in miracles (specifically the miracle of Napoleon being defeated at Moscow because the Pope had excommunicated him three years earlier.) Anyway, the thing Wittgenstein says in response is your answer—
Wittgenstein: Twenty years ago I would have regarded Newman’s action as incomprehensible, perhaps even insincere. But no more…
Somebody: But what changed in you that you no longer think so?
W.: I came gradually to see that life is not what it seems.
[very long silence]
W.: It’s like this: In the city, streets are nicely laid out. And you drive on the right and you have traffic lights, and so on. There are rules. When you leave the city, there are still roads, but no traffic lights. And when you get far off, there are no roads, no lights, no rules, nothing to guide you. It’s all woods. And when you return to the city you may feel that the rules are wrong, that there should be no rules.
S.: I still don’t understand.
W.: It comes to something like this—If you have a light, I say: Follow it. It may be right. Certainly life in the city won’t do.