As a child, I thought being a grownup meant drinking coffee, Jazzercising (it was the 80’s), running errands, removing balloons stuck in ceiling fans and occasionally watching R-rated movies. It turns out child-me was wrong, but not about the coffee, exercise, errands, balloons, or movies. On those, I was shockingly accurate.
What child-me didn’t understand was—like the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus and the monster under my bed—grownups don’t exist.
Big, biologically mature humans exist. I can vouch for that, because I eventually turned into one. We come in all varieties. Some of us have grey hair. Others have no hair. Some of us have important-sounding jobs. Some have children. Most of us take ourselves very seriously. Yet none of this makes us a grown-up on the inside.
This is upsetting because the world is not a particularly safe place. We are vulnerable, and this makes us nervous. We find security and comfort in the idea that there are grownups out there who understand what is going on. We reassure ourselves, “I may be a mess, but at least there are grownups who have things figured out. They will make it all okay.”
This is a myth.
Grownup implies there is an end to growing. An arrival at a place of having life figured out. Something that is achieved after acquiring a certain number of skills and experiences. It’s a myth because life is always changing and our perspective is always limited and relative. There is always more to learn, more understanding to be gained. Always another step to take.
And this is good news for two reasons:
First, we don’t have to feel bad about failing to become this mythical creature. We can’t become grownups any more than we can become unicorns. This means we haven’t been doing life wrong this whole time. (Sigh of relief).
Second, although grownups are make-believe, growing people are real.
And this is where a different kind of comfort can be found. Growing people are collectors of insight who share their enlightenment with others. Growing people come in all varieties. Some are warm and kind. Others are grouchy. Some are helpful and generous. Others are intense and occasionally bossy. Some are enthusiastic and a bit scattered. Others are laid back and a little conflict avoidant. But they share a commitment to curiosity and a desire to understand the world and themselves on a deeper level.
Grownups never happen, but little by little growing up happens.
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David and his wife live in the western suburbs on Chicago with their two children, who David says “fill my days with laughter, excitement and a significant amount of property damage.”
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