What will I be when I grow up?


When I was a kid I felt a breezy, uninformed optimism about the process of growing up. I assumed it would flow naturally, evenly, always moving toward a higher state of consciousness. I assumed that I would experience some tricky teen years and maybe endure challenges in my 20s. But I took it for granted that I’d be all grown up by 30 or (worst case scenario) 35. Then I’d have four or five decades to enjoy being a grownup before the little candle of my soul was snuffed out.

That optimism began to wear thin when I hit my 30s and still felt like a work in progress. I feared there was something wrong with me in my 40s because I still pursued maturity like a greyhound chasing a tin bunny, never catching it . . . hell, never getting near it!

Right: Which one is the most mature?

Becoming a parent while I was still flagrantly immature was interesting. When you have a kid, you sometimes have to act like a grownup. I often felt like a fraud at such moments. I wanted to sneak out to the apron of the stage and confess to the audience, “I’m not really an adult, but I gotta play one from time to time.”

Somewhere along the line I sensed I wasn’t the only one still trying to grow up at 40, 50 or 60. One of my best friends is about twenty years older than I, and she routinely experiences breakthroughs in personal growth as she pushes 90. I now understand that most people continue to grow and mature as long as they breathe air. Some of that feels good and some of it stinks, but it seems to be one of the unavoidable realities of life.

I might be more aware of this than most folks, for my life blew up in my face when I was 57, and I suddenly didn’t have any idea of who I was or what I would do when I grew up. I “got” to experience my teen years all over when I was actually in my AARP years, with all the terrors and bizarre rewards of dating. I was plunged into a crash course in self-discovery. It has been fascinating and often harrowing.

Because of this blog piece, I’ve been contemplating changes that I’ve made lately. Without going into tedious detail, I believe I’m much more humble. I’ve always had strong opinions and no shortage of them. Most of my life I was “humble” in the sense of not arrogantly spouting off with my excellent opinions. I now understand that my opinions are often based on crummy data, lazy analysis and wishful thinking. Where I used to act humble, I now am humble because I know many of my pet convictions are just crap. I am doing a better job of keeping quiet when I see people doing dumb things. If they want my wisdom, they can always ask for it. I listen better now.

I continue to be curious about what I will be like when I grow up . . . if I ever do, which seems mighty unlikely after all these years!

What does it mean to be ‘grown up’, and how can you tell when you get there?