All or Nothing: On Growing Up

Are you grown up? If pressed on some kind of governmental form, what would you check: A) child B) teen C) adult D) depends on the day E) no fucking clue. I think I’d need a box to check that offered “depends on the hour.” But, it hasn’t always been so for me.

I have been what some call an “old soul.” That roughly translates into someone who followed most of the rules for fear of getting in trouble, didn’t like to play Red Rover, and usually spent indoor recess in the library. This oldness limited my friend base in high school, kept me out of trouble in college, and has helped me be judicious and successful in my career. So, overall it has been a good thing.

don't grow upLately, though, I’ve found that perhaps I embraced that oldness too tightly, and I limited myself.  In letting it go a bit, I have discovered there’s a bit more fun and a lot more freedom to be had than I thought. Furthermore, that oldness really kept me in a boxes of others’ construction, bound by obligations of my own invention. And, in escaping those boxes, I have begun to see what I really like to do and who I really am.

Let me put it another way.

Think of middle school. Or junior high. Whatever you called it, it was a time of halves. Half well-read, interesting human; half slightly domesticated baboon. Half stay-up-until-midnight-would-be partier; half can-I-go-to-bed-now toddler. It was a rough time. But it was a really honest time. Middle schoolers embody the heart of being human; perhaps that is why they drive us so crazy – really, they remind us of ourselves. They show us that no man’s land between being a responsible adult human and needing mommy.

Back then, that middle school push-and-pull wasn’t fun, mainly because we didn’t have the mental capacities to reflect thoughtfully. Back then, we also had little power to make changes to our day-to-day lives. Most of us were in school and governed by a parent. Now, as “grown-ups” we get to manage the desire to do what we want and the need to do what we have to.

A few years ago, when I first started thinking about what I really wanted to do and how I really wanted to live, I kept pushing myself back into those boxes of others’ expectations. In doing so, I felt that I had to do certain things in certain ways; society expected specific things of people my age, and I needed to conform. Luckily, I have a friend who is a successful professional, an excellent cook, a beer brewer, and a video game aficionado. Once I made a disparaging comment, noting that adults do not play video games, and his response was beautiful: “Why not? I like them. I have fun. Being grown-up doesn’t mean one thing. It means doing whatever the fuck you want to and being who you want to be.”  Simplistic? Perhaps. But it was revolutionary for me.

In my mind, being an adult meant living in certain sober, serious ways – not much fun about any of it, and “setting an example.” I grow up.cummingsmean, I had been “setting an example” since I was three when my younger sister was born. It wasn’t fun setting an example, especially since I had no idea what the example was supposed to be – just as when I was “being an adult.” There are actually a lot of ways to do that.

My friend showed me that it’s okay to realize that life is not all or nothing. You don’t have to be a total adult or a middle schooler – you can do both. If we can embrace all of the ages, interests, and parts of ourselves, how different would our lives be?

A life lived the way we want to live it – in gardens of our own design instead of in boxes built by others.

That is my wish for us all.

Join me.





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