When I was 13, I thought growing up meant freedom. I thought I’d finally be free from curfews and having to sneak around behind my parents’ backs.
What I’ve learnt at 25 is that no matter how far you go from home, if you’re not free inside, you’re always going to feel chained down by someone or something. If it’s not your parents, it’s going to be your partner. If it’s not your partner, it’s going to be your friends or your job. The only person who can give you total freedom and permission to be who you are and do the things you want to do is yourself.
When I was 16, I thought that growing up meant I’d have more courage to be able to say “no” to people instead of wasting so much time trying to please others. I thought that with age, I’d one day have the strength to choose to be alone whenever I’m feeling socially exhausted.
What I learnt is that having more courage doesn’t start with saying “no” to others. It starts with saying “no” to myself. No, I will not call myself names. No, I will not allow myself to give up. No, I will not settle for or accept anything that doesn’t build me up or make me stronger. I learnt it wasn’t so much that other people were burning me out – but I was burning myself out. As I learnt to say “no” to myself, I also learnt to not just tolerate, but appreciate and enjoy being with lots of different types of people without socially burning out.
When I was 18 and a broke student, I thought that growing up meant being rich – or at least having more money to spend. I looked forward to the day I could treat myself to luxuries like beach vacations, spa days, movie outings, or new books anytime I wanted to.
What I learnt is that time is just as valuable as money, and the richest people aren’t those who have the most cash to spend. They’re the ones who know how to enjoy each moment to the fullest.
I learnt that life begins to speed pass in a blur once you leave university. Simply having clean rugs on the floor, a fresh roll of toilet paper on the holder, and countertops not covered in dust are luxuries in their own right. Especially when you’re learning to juggle a full-time job and take care of your own house without mom to do the laundry.
When I was 23, I thought that growing up meant finding love. And that love was about finding that one person who scares you, who makes you want to give up everything you’ve ever known for and go on a brand new adventure with.
What I’ve learnt at 25 is that our fingerprints never fade from the lives we touch. With every new relationship, we hope for a fresh start – yet we always end up bringing pieces of our past along. And that’s okay. Our past shapes us and makes us who we are. The people who are meant to stay in our lives will understand that, and accept it. Just as they will accept everything else that makes you who you are. Your quirks. Your family. Your hectic job. Because real relationships aren’t built on the promise of what “could be”, but on two people deciding to make what is – work.
What I’ve learnt is that all that glittering potential of what “could be”… is not love. Love is crossing oceans and traveling miles just to watch someone you loved and dreamed about for years walk away… and deciding, in that split second, to let him walk away. Because you both have separate lives now. And because you choose to stay with someone else who made the choice to stay with you too.
When I was younger, I thought growing up meant I’d be smarter, wiser, and more balanced.
What I’ve learnt is that growing up actually means realizing how little you know, being able to laugh at yourself, not having to try to act so fucking grown up all the time, and just being more wacky, more comfortable in my own skin, more me. We spend so much of our childhood being told how we should behave to be accepted and loved, learning to color inside the lines, learning to sit in rows and comb our hair neatly. Growing up is about unlearning all of that – and learning to be ourselves – and learning to let others be themselves.
So here’s to growing up. Here’s to believing that the best days of our lives are not behind us, but ahead of us. And here’s to leaving behind everything we thought we knew about growing up as we enter a new year. Here’s to having the rest of our of our lives to color outside the lines, take ourselves a little less seriously, love better, and find freedom within ourselves.