“Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional.” – Chili Davis
Can you recall all the times in your life when someone asked you to behave yourself and followed that statement with a patronizing request to “just grow up”? The person who said this to you was most likely someone older, such as a parent, sibling, teacher or a friend who considered themselves to be mature.
I don’t know about you but every time that someone said that to me as a kid, I was perplexed because I wasn’t quite sure what I had to actually do to be considered a grown-up. What I did know is that clowning around or acting silly was seen as being childish and viewed negatively. In my young mind, behaving like a grown-up was good because it garnered praise, recognition and acceptance from others.
This is the general consensus amongst most children and teenagers. From an early age, youngsters view the prospect of being an adult with enthusiasm because they would finally get to do grown-up stuff and people will start taking them seriously. Youngsters crave grown-up rights like the forbidden fruit that they never have access to, which they hope will give them the liberty to call the shots in their life.
This reminds me of a scene from the Disney movie The Lion King, where Simba visits an elephant graveyard, despite his father’s warning. Simba gets tempted into doing this after his ill-intentioned uncle, Scar, tells him that only the bravest lions could go there. Simba viewed a visit to the graveyard as an opportunity to test his strength and prove that he was a brave lion who was ready to be the king of Pride Rock.
Things didn’t go well in the elephant graveyard, which was home to hyenas that almost eat Simba. Fortunately, his father, Mufasa, rescues him on time. Later on, his father expresses his hurt and anger, to which Simba responds, “I just wanted to be brave like you!” Mufasa looks at him compassionately and says, “Simba, I’m only brave when I have to be! Being brave doesn’t mean you go looking for trouble.”
Like Simba, many of us misunderstand what it means to exude the courage, strength and wisdom that a grown-up usually embodies. Our definition of adulthood is limited and we tend to associate it with the ability to engage in habits that require a minimum age requirement, such as driving, drinking or working in certain institutions, or a time when we should settle down with a steady career, relationship and kids.
But these are only shallow constructs created by society to guide people down a certain path so that they fit into the system. The real growing up needs to happen within us. The kind of growing up that I’m referring is the psychological and emotional kind, which has nothing to do with our chronological age. I’ve met mature 20 year olds but I’ve also met older people who seem like they’re still stuck in puberty!
If age is not a reliable indicator of someone’s maturity then what is? I believe it’s a person’s character and their ability to consistently express those traits. Of course, it’s tough to be mature in every situation that presents itself to us because we’re constantly growing, learning and evolving as individuals. At some point, no matter how developed we are, our childish or adolescent self will rear its head up.
As Walt Disney once said, “Adults are only kids grown up, anyway.” His statement captures an important truth that no matter how old we get, there will always be a prominent part of us that will remain child-like. This aspect of our personality is popularly referred to as our inner-child. The health and development of our inner-child is a key determinant of the degree of maturity that we display as an adult.
Maturity is a delicate process that’s influenced by various factors such as our upbringing, cultural background, education, and our personal dispositions. If we faced difficult experiences while growing up and we lacked the right guidance from good role models and parental figures, our emotional development was probably stunted in some way and our inner child got damaged in the process.
All our pain, insecurities, anger and frustration are nothing but manifestations of unaddressed issues from the past. They are emotional vestiges of our personal history that have not been healed and treated properly. We didn’t have access to the tools, skills or guidance to handle them. If you suspect that you have past lingering issues that are hindering you, I encourage you to consider getting therapy.
The modern education system and household doesn’t typically prepare us for “adulting” by getting us acquainted with the real world and how things really work. Most of us have to learn the ropes on our own. But for that to happen, we should be ready to roll our sleeves up to do the work and navigate through potential obstacles, which is much harder to do if we lack a mature disposition.
The notion of growing up becomes increasingly vaguer as we grow up. As adults, we’re clueless as to where we stand on the emotional development spectrum, and we’re unaware that developing our inner resilience is a lifelong quest that isn’t limited to our youth. We continue to grow with every experience that we have and we can do it consciously and purposefully if we know how to process our feelings.
You also want to avoid growing up too quickly and missing out on the fun. It’s important to honor the Peter Pan within us all and be able to escape to Neverland once in a while. What you want to create is a balanced approach towards being a grown-up without becoming extreme. That’s why I feel it’s important to understand what it really means to be a grown-up and how we can cultivate those traits.
Everyone has their own concept of what being a grown-up entails. Based on a combination of my own personal experiences and some psychological studies, here are five signs that you’ve truly grown up:
- You’re self-sufficient and take responsibility for your life: One of the key characteristics of a grown-up is their natural ability to take care of themselves. This not only includes being able to earn a living to support their basic needs but also having the insight to build a lifestyle that honors their mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs. Self-care begins with claiming responsibility for your life and then making a concerted effort to understand what you really need to feel good. There’s nothing more empowering and freeing than being self-sufficient and not having to be overly dependent on others.
- You’re comfortable in your skin: Someone who is mature has a clear sense of who they are and they’re comfortable with that. They have a solid sense of identity with a clear value system and a vision that guides them in their everyday life. No matter what happens, they like themselves (in a non-egotistical way) and don’t question their worth as person. Because of this, they have a thick skin and are less likely to get offended or hurt by naysayers and critics. Their belief in themselves is unquestionable.
- You’re in control of your emotional reactions: A clear sign of being a grown-up is a capacity to keep one’s emotions in check. This doesn’t mean that you should be stoic and refrain from showing your true feelings. That’s as extreme as displaying childish behavior such as screaming and throwing tantrums. The middle ground is the best place to be, as it’s from here that you can adopt an objective view on situations, channel your emotions in a healthy way, and express yourself to others without offending them or causing drama. This can be especially hard to do if you are triggered around sensitive issues. If you do get triggered, deep breathing, meditation or simply being conscious of your thoughts will get you back to center quickly. Shadow work can help you deal with your hot button issues on a deeper level.
- You’re able to express and live your truth: As kids and teenagers, we were self-conscious and overly concerned about what others thought about us and our actions. As we grow up, we should become less attached to other people’s opinions and strive to live our life from a place of authenticity. While we should be open to constructive feedback, we shouldn’t allow the judgments of others to drown the wise voice of our intuition and the intelligence of our logical mind. To reach this point of surety, we must gain confidence in our evaluation of situations and become a leader in our own life. Another refreshing aspect of this trait is the ability to be straightforward and honest in communication. People can trust a mature individual because they know that whatever they say is an accurate reflection of how they feel.
- You understand the importance of fun and play: A grown-up person knows that there is a time to be serious, but they also know that they must make time for fun and play to balance things out. They’re comfortable with engaging their inner kid and enjoying the lighter side of life, whether that involves playing video games, painting or dancing at a club. They have the wisdom to know that life is too short to be taken seriously and that they need to do whatever it takes to celebrate each and every moment.
No matter how much we age on the outside, our core spiritual essence never ages. Our spirit is the part of us that is timeless and eternal. It is the embodiment of love, joy and connection. As philosopher Pierre de Chardin once said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Deep down, we’ll always be young at heart!
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: What does growing up really mean to you? What are the specific traits that a grown-up should display?