Each year, we grow older.
Actually… every day we grow older. Whenever a moment of time – no matter how small – slips by our third dimensional experience, we age. It’s a naturally occurring phenomenon that all living organisms experience. It’s natural.
And we fear it.
If you look around, you’ll notice people are absolutely terrified of growing old. Stores are cluttered with beauty products that are supposed to make you look “years younger”. Plastic surgeons make more money that I do (which… I guess isn’t hard, but still. EQUALITY RIGHT? [yes that was sarcasm]). The most common link-bait on the internet has to do with aging, and preventing it from happening (followed closely by dating websites and places that will “help” lower your mortgage).
We’re obsessed with staying young.
That’s from the perspective of people who are already aged. Like… people over thirty.
What about the young people? The fifteen through twenty-five age group? We fall between “I can’t wait to be a year older so I can be older” and “man I wish I was young again”.
We fear growing up.
Take a look around a bookstore or library. Look at the books targeted at young adults (not necessarily just YA, but also Adult fiction intended for the twenty-somethings). What do you find?
You find immortal beings who never have to grow old (or grow up, in some cases), you find the Boy Who Never Grew Up dashing about Neverland saving the day in a dozen retellings, you find stories featuring young protagonists doing great things… all the while being young.
The thing is… growing up is hard. We don’t want this time in our lives to end because the next time looks scary.
I’m right there in the midst of that time. I know the feeling of “I don’t want to grow up”.
Of all the things I’ve learned in my short years, there is one thing that brings me peace: it’s okay to grow up.
The Art of Growing Up
As we consider the idea of “growing up”, the topic begs the question: when do you become an adult?”. See, that’s the thing we really fear. Not “growing up”, but “being an adult”. Young people don’t want to be that. Ew.
When, though? When do we graduate from our “childhood” into our “adulthood”? Americans might tend to say “oh, eighteen”, because that’s when the government considers you a legal adult who has to make all their own decisions and your parents aren’t responsible for you. Others might have a different age, based on when their own country does such a thing.
Maybe you consider it the legal drinking age, the age you can get a driver’s license, the year you get married or get a full-time job or move out of your parents’ house or any number of events.
I don’t think being an “adult” has anything to do with those things. The age the government recognizes you as an adult shouldn’t mean anything. I mean… the government is literally an abstract entity composed of lawmakers who know nothing of your life (unless one of them is your parent/relative). I don’t think it’s the time you get your license, the time you get to drink alcohol, the day you get married. None of those things are universal.
Being an adult is more than passing some “milestone” on the path of life. I mean… I’m “legally” an adult. I can “legally” drive. I’m out of highschool, I have a job.
None of those things make me feel like an adult.
When I turned eighteen… it felt like any other birthday. I’d already reached that point in life where birthdays… were just days. As a spoiler to all you less-than-eighteens out there, you don’t suddenly become an adult.
Growing up is more than turning an age, than attaining some achievement. This isn’t an early 2000s internet RPG.
I like to use three words when describing what “adulthood” means to me: Maturity, Responsibility, Passion.
The “M” Word
A lot of people hate the word “maturity”. Others love to use it as a way to discard opinions they don’t agree with.
“You’re so immature,” one sibling might say to another.
Maturity is not – before I say anything more – being serious. It’s not just “being old”, or putting on your Ebenezer Scrooge mask and walking around muttering “bah humbug” (although if you have such a mask, I would highly recommend doing this).
You can look at the dictionary definition of maturity and accept it, or you can consider a simpler idea: Maturity is knowing when to be childlike and when to be serious.
It’s okay to have fun. There’s nothing wrong with laughing, joking, playing, doing “child” things. If you never do those things, you’ll become just like Scrooge (that is… a wrinkly old man with a hooked nose and a taste for disgustingly cheap soup and lodging).
But an adult also knows when to be quiet.
They know when to listen, when to focus, when to work and learn and be serious.
We all know that one kid who couldn’t sit still, couldn’t shut up, who had no idea how to stop and learn. That is immaturity. Chances are, that one kid grew out of it, eventually. If they didn’t… well, you probably avoid them.
If it’s okay to grow up, as the title of this post suggests, then it must be okay to do the three things I feel create adulthood, right? The logical question, then, is “why is it okay to be mature”?
Shall we do short bullet lists?
· It’s easier to trust a mature person. Do you want to be trusted? If you never act mature, people won’t trust that you’re ready to handle something.
· You get the best of both worlds. It’s easy to want to be a child. Doing the “fun” things is easy. Becoming an adult doesn’t get rid of that. It just opens up another realm to you: the realm of responsibility.
Trembling Before Responsibility
I’ve used that word three times, has it made your skin crawl yet?
Of all the words the world of youth hates, responsibility is probably top of the list. Oh, and now I’ve said it four times, how repulsive.
What if… responsibility was a good thing?
“No, no Aidan stop! Five is enough! Don’t make us read it again.”
I promise I’m not trying to torture you (well, maybe I am a little), but here’s the deal: responsibility is not bad.
It’s okay to have stuff under your care.
You don’t have to be afraid of responsibility. After all, it gives you power, and power is something young people are always after, isn’t it? We want to be empowered, we want to be superior, we want to climb to the top and we want to stand and admire the view.
These aren’t bad things, necessarily. You can desire empowerment without falling into the “power corrupts” category.
We clamber and shout that we want freedom, but we’re scared to grow up and accept it.
Freedom and respect and capability and knowledge and experience all come from responsibility. It’s not that scary, to be responsible. Life, unlike stories, rarely thrusts upon you responsibilities that aren’t actually yours. You might try to take them (just like the angst-filled main characters we’re used to), but life has a tendency to… not let you.
The Impassionate Youth
People get excited about things, sometimes. Some show it more than others: a squeal of delight, a dance of joy, fidgeting with anticipation, broad smiles, random laughter, exuberant gestures, and quick speech. Or perhaps a simple smile and sparkle of crazy in the eye, a shifting of weight.
When something makes you excited, you might consider that passion. But is it really?
When it makes your eyes light up, when you smile and talk fast and for lengthy periods of time, is that passion? Maybe… maybe it’s one aspect. At the same time, however, I feel like passion is more than simply a feeling of inexplicable joy and eagerness. Passion is more than being earnest.
To me, passion (in the sense of “what makes you an adult”) is a pursuit. It’s not just enjoying something and wanting to talk about it, to enjoy it. True passion motivates action. Much like gravity creates motion, passion creates a reaction that you can’t resist.
It’s hard, however, to pursue passion as a child. You’re still trying to understand what passion is, and what you’re passionate about. An example might be the age-old question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”
This question might seem easy, in one moment, but then next day you’re not sure if you actually want to be that anymore. As a kid, I went through at least eight occupations in the space of four years, all of which I desperately and “passionately” wanted to “be when I grew up”.
Childhood isn’t about pursuing passion. It’s about discovering what passion is.
I discovered that I have many passions: one of them is writing. More than anything else, actually, writing is a passion I want to pursue forever. I hope there isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t write anything. Even when I take a break from a novel, I’m writing something – a short story, another novel, a blog post, whatever it may be.
I can’t just stop. It’s not that I never burn out – I do, more often than I’d like to admit. But when I write, that emotion of passion comes into play. The quiet type, the slight smile and the gleaming light in the eyes.
Adulthood can be found in the pursuit of passion. When you’re a child, you’re just looking, experimenting. You don’t know what you really want, not yet. You’re “in the market”. Life throws a million possibilities at you and you get excited about all of them. At least at first. Then, slowly, slowly you winnow out the weak ones and decide “this: this is my passion”.
When you do that, when you equip yourself with a knowledge of when to be childlike and when to be serious, when you accept responsibility for your actions and plans and passion, then you’re ready to pursue that passion.
Then… you’re an adult.
Something to Fear
Did any of those things I just talked about sound scary?
I hope not.
Growing up isn’t scary.
You know what is?
Losing sight of the point of growing up.
Getting old isn’t the point. Gaining another year isn’t the destination. When you become so absorbed in the idea of “OH NO I’M A YEAR OLDER NOW I’M AN ADULT AND HAVE TO BE ADULT AND HOW”, then you lose sight of the reason behind growing up.
You’re not growing up to grow up.
You don’t become an adult so you can be all crotchety and “bah humbug”.
Scrooge was, after all, supposed to be a bad example and not a good one.
It’s okay to grow up. You can pursue maturity and responsibility and passion to the end of your days, with a smile on your face and excitement pounding through your veins.
So long as you don’t forget that those are what truly makes you “grown up”.
Have you ever been afraid to grow up? Leave a comment, I’d love to chat with you!