In youth, adulthood is a faraway destination. It’s hard to sincerely entertain or understand the notion that it’s a place in time we will ever come to encounter firsthand. So, with the cushion of perpetual pending future, we envision a timeline in which things will fall into place. We have this understanding, albeit vague, of the responsibility and the maturity that is inherent in adulthood.
Then, you actually start reaching or approaching these benchmarks, and everything changes. What you imagine your life would be like, turns into a mockery of the disparate space between expectations and reality. The thing is, we realize the timelines we envisioned were short-sighted in that they afforded the luxury of distance, as paradoxical as it sounds. Because the future was so far off then, it was easy to cram so much into a confined space and time. Now, we’re living in that time, and we’re not ready for so much and so many of the life-changing elements we envisioned.
That makes me realize further that, adulthood is so far from the immediate embodiment of maturity. As a child, I had this idea that you turned 20-something and, with something like the abruptness of puberty, you instantly stopped being petty and childish, and became reasonable, mature, and acquired a more sophisticated array of interests and desires. You acquired a taste for coffee and wine, and lost interest in gossip. Well, I now know the process is a little more complicated than that (although the wine and coffee part is accurate).
From my observations of others — both my age and significantly older — there is no guarantee of direct correlation between age and maturity. You would think as you grow and experience more your mind and perspective would expand, but I’ve encountered numerous people who seemingly become more and more deeply entrenched in the narrowness of their views. Where imagination dwindles, the affinity for gossip lingers. I’ve witnessed adults be petulant and whiny when they don’t get their way, and seen them throw blame on someone else rather than take responsibility. I’ve heard adults be rude, ill-mannered, exclusive, and mean — behavior that should have been shed long ago.
On the other hand, I’ve seen older people maintain the essence of their youth in a way I admire and hope to emulate. They preserve their ability to see things from a younger perspective, allowing them to interact with people of all ages in a human to human way, without the awkward barrier of time and inability to relate sitting bulkily in between.
As for myself, I strive to actively and consciously avoid the pitfalls I have once fallen into, and work to be a better, more mature and well-rounded person in my behavior and interactions with people. That being said, I’m sure I still have a handful of priorities that need significant sorting. I still don’t exactly know what I want to do with my life. And I remain — with pride –— a complete goofball. But here’s the thing: I think there is a significant and very relevant difference between growing up, and growing out of things — between growing up in the traditional sense, and growing into yourself.
I’m a firm believer that so much of what we sacrifice as we age we would be better off holding on to. Imagination, for one. The affinity for honesty that is so inherent in children, which ultimately becomes complicated by the expectations, pressures, and motives of adulthood. The ability to enjoy something simply — to remain unjaded in some sense.
We grow out of wonder in so many ways, and it’s such a shame because it is wonder and wanderlust that most often lead us down the path of an unlikely adventure. Losing that leads us to seek exhilaration and adrenaline in often more destructive settings. We seek the big rush, so we overlook the glistening opportunities strewn about us. We abandon our curiosity and its place sprouts the weeds of blasé boredom. In a world teeming with so much to know, to learn, to seek, and to see — curiosity is one of our greatest assets — it is something that should only grow and thrive, and further our own ability to grow and thrive.
The marring of our purity of motive is unavoidable — it is a side effect of existence in an imperfect world comprised of imperfect people — and I suppose that’s fine. Purity is overrated and not synonymous with integrity; existence comes with some scars. But we often become casual in what we discard following the tainting of our innocence. We lump it all into one category, as if our naiveté is the same as our character, as if we cannot shed one while we maintain the other. As if when one part of us becomes tainted, we must embrace venom in all its forms, and welcome it to overtake us entirely. The world has little patience for innocence, but for all its roughness it is the qualities it most challenges, that it most greatly needs. We should strive to uphold the integrity that comes with that originally unadulterated way of navigating through life — the simple existential clarity that is unique to childhood. It would save so much heartache and headache, and it is simply a cleaner, more cathartic, more honorable and rewarding way to live.
There is so much embedded in youth and childhood that we abandon. We seem more inclined to cling to the elements we would do better to outgrow — the petulance, the impatience, the pouting, the “cliqueyness.” If we’re going to bring these traits with us, then we might as well bring the good ones along too. And we might as well bring the fun. The slip n’ slides, the running through sprinklers, the butterfly chasing, the willingness to be silly and flawed and to imagine and to get the giggles, and whatever else you still enjoy. If we didn’t force ourselves to grow out of things we still love, we might do a better job of growing up. And if we do a better job of growing up, we will likely have a far more successful and fulfilling experience growing into who we are each meant to be.