Immaturity in dating, nostalgia overload, the pursuit of everlasting youth, Peter Pan Syndrome, childish tendencies – why do we find growing up so hard?
Whenever people ask what I do, I usually do a little routine. “I’m a programmer and a consultant, I get paid to be a nerd”, which is a pretty accurate description of what I’ve been involved with. If you follow me anywhere where I meet a few people, you’re usually going to hear that one a few times at least. Occasionally I’ve had to travel interstate for work. When some people have heard about it, they’ve said “wow, that makes you sound so grown up”.
But I am grown up…?
Being in my mid-20s, I’m always surprised when I hear people describing certain tasks as making you an adult. If you say you’re cooking dinner, running some errands, doing your taxes, or even doing something pretty routine for work, there is a stigma in today’s society that some of those activities make you older than you are perceived to be.
In my country, the age one is considered an adult is 18. In your country, it may be 21. But you think about the Hebrew culture, for instance, and they consider adulthood beginning from the age of 13, announced by the rite of passage of the Bar Mitzvah. To a lot of us, we look shocked at such a young age. Even when we describe the actions of people younger than us, say 20 or 21, we state that their actions make sense because “they’re still a kid”, and “who knows what they’re meant to be doing at such a young age?”.
Our culture is one that idolizes youth. Most of our front runners are teenagers or in their 20s, and those who are a bit older are only considered if they maintain a youthful image, whether by appearance or by action. We want to be seen as young and full of life, and growing up is something that receives a negative wrap.
But then you get talking about relationships, and both men and women will be lightning quick to snap that they don’t want to date someone who is immature.
So… pick one. Do we care more about youthfulness, or do we actually see maturity as something worthwhile? Our heads say the latter, but I wonder what our actions say?
I reckon there are a few reasons why we find growing up and its surrounding thoughts so difficult. Here are 4 of them.
Because responsibility is hard
There is a lot of freedom that comes with your adult years. You can vote, you’re no longer under the direct jurisdiction of your parents (usually), you can drive a car, you can own property, you can drink, you are at the age of consent, you can travel – the world is open to you. But you quickly find that with your new found power comes responsibility.
Owning your own place is pretty cool, til you realize you have to look after it. Being out on your own is great, but you’re the one who all the chores fall to now. You can smoke and drink and make other related decisions, but there is a level of balance required in order for it not to destroy your life or the lives of those around you. Being able to date and get married and have sex is pretty awesome, but the addition of someone else’s life to your own has some far reaching implications beyond a mere moment.
When you were young, you were told where to go, what to say, what to study at school, and how to spend your time. With your adult years comes accountability and consequence for your choice, beyond what you have encountered before.
You are the man of your own house now. Or the woman.
Not much more to say on this one, other than responsibility is just a fact of life. You can embrace it and get great results, or run away from it and seriously cut the effectiveness of your life.
Because we don’t like losing things
This is a difficult one. As kids, we didn’t really own that much. We had a few toys, our room, and maybe a few pieces of kid furniture around the house. As you get older, you gain control over more assets and you meet so many more people. Your world expands.
And with more possession and more time comes more opportunities for loss. And as we get older, the losses increase.
We lose our baby teeth. We lose our short height. We lose our kid-like features in favour of puberty’s development in our body. We lose our uniforms and gain freedom to choose what we wear. We lose our set schedule and get to chart our own destiny.
But then we also lose some of our friendships from when we were at school, at uni, at certain work places. We lose some relationships when our dating lives don’t go the way we thought. We lose hope sometimes when life starts to get hard. We lose people as the reality of mortality enters our lives (sometimes all too early). We lose our jobs. Sometimes, we even lose our way.
Loss is always a difficult challenge but a necessary one as we grow and develop. And oftentimes the reason it is so much harder is because we just don’t know how to grieve the things we lose. We develop addictions to deal with pain. We ignore it and hope it goes away. We go into rebound relationships or other weird situations to avoid having to process some of the darker times in our lives.
The Hebrews used to set different periods for mourning, and they would be times not to spend avoiding the issue, not to spend keeping themselves busy, but purely to mourn. They would wail and cry and scream and wear depressing clothing. Once the period was over, that was it. They would mourn it no longer because they had appropriate addressed what the pain of loss actually requires in order to move forward.
Maybe this is an art form we need to go back to in order to move forwards.
Because we think it was better when we were younger
Ah, the good ol days. Remember when we were kids? We had fun then. They were some bright days.
It seems the more days we have, the more attached to the naivety of youth we become. Your years of innocence and happiness, when the world was as it should be.
If life is a car journey, then a lot of us live staring in the rearview mirror. Always looking back to a point we remembered being happy instead of seeing that we’re in a place where we can actually enjoy life.
Growing up means you recognize how much freedom and control you actually do have in your life. It is usually within your power to change your circumstances, or to change your attitude to see the best in your circumstance. Instead of continually looking back with regret on things long gone, why not look forward with expectation and intention to what’s in front of you right now?
Because we’re selfish
Saved this one for last cause it’s a bit of a zinger. But it’s true. Think about all the people in your life you would label as immature. You know, they have the form of a grown up body, but they don’t act like it. The main reason is because they’re still “spoilt”, and still only looking out for themselves. To use the analogy, Peter Pan doesn’t care so much about others, his highest goal is to have fun doing whatever he wants and look after himself.
Maturity necessitates selflessness.
When a person gets married – when a man becomes a husband, when a woman becomes a wife – it is no longer just about themselves. Marriage is seen as a sign of maturity and requires selflessness in ever increasing quantities.
When a person has a child – when a man becomes a father, when a woman becomes a mother – their needs are no longer the most important things in life any more, as they now have this beautiful bundle of joy to look out for. Being a parent is seen as a sign of maturity. Parenthood requires even more so that you get over yourself.
Think about the people you’ve looked up to and who you would consider to have grown up well. They rarely are the people who are still going around in circles talking about their problems, they’re not the ones who keep serving their own desires – they are the people who have laid it all aside to put others first. They are the ones who have not just taken responsibility for their own lives, but out of the overflow of their lives and their priorities they have a solid framework to empower others to do the same.
There’s many more reasons and implications for why people continue to act like children into their adult years. But let’s make sure that you and I are not people like this. To embrace the model of maturity, to grow into the stature of complete men and women, and then to empower others to do the same – what a goal in life.
So you and I can either just grow old, or we can make the decision to also grow up. What are some other things that hold people back from doing that?