This month, my niece celebrated her third birthday. A few days ago, while chatting with her on Skype, I asked her how old she was, and got the cheeky response, “Four!”. She’d obviously understood somewhere along the line that giving a wrong response when asked that question got a visible reaction, and so she started doing it for fun. It was cute, but it also struck me how funny it was that a three-year-old was “lying” about her age, albeit the wrong way around.
We all remember being young and wanting to be older than we were. I remember when I was 12, and couldn’t wait to be 15. I remember when I was 18 and couldn’t wait to be 20. Then I was 23, and actually happy to be 23. And then suddenly I was 26 and wondering how I’d so quickly moved into the “late 20s” category. We spend so much of our childhood wanting to be adults, and then when we actually hit that point in terms of age, we begin panicking about that slow descent downhill.
Age is this weird grey area for most people. I doubt most people lie about their ages, but most people don’t like being asked about it to their faces or being reminded of it, either. I don’t really mind (and you could say I feel that way because in the grand scheme of things, I’m still what people consider young), but there’s this self-consciousness that’s attached to my age now that wasn’t there when I was in my teens. I think a lot of it is because there are these unspoken rules in society about what life must be at any given age, and subconsciously, I’m trying to live up to those standards. I’m trying to mould my life so it looks like I’m experiencing adulthood.
What is adulthood, though, anyway? Is it a particular age? Is it physical development? Is it a checklist of items? If you can vote, drink, watch R-rated movies or get married legally, are you considered an adult? If you live by yourself, manage your own finances and pay taxes (the holy grail of adult problems we hear about but don’t understand when we’re kids), is that when you get the adulthood stamp? Or are we talking about a more intangible concept, like maturity? For me, trying to define adulthood in precise terms doesn’t work. I have some things, I don’t have others. More importantly, though, I don’t know what it should feel like to be an adult, so I can’t tell if I am one.
Instead, I like thinking about things in terms of growing up. As you grow up, you learn new things. You experience more. Your world view changes. You make opinions and then you shatter them. You change your mind. You make mistakes and then you try not to repeat them. You keep moving forward, and each experience makes you grow up just a little bit. And maybe at some point you stop growing up, but you never really stop growing. Adulthood seems to me like hitting a brick wall – once you’re there, you’re there. Growing, though… you can always keep doing that. You should always keep doing that.
These days I’m trying to move away from the line of thinking that your life should be a certain way at a certain age. Yes, those “20 Things To Do While You’re Still In Your 20s” articles are appealing in that “get your life together NOW!” sort of way, but life doesn’t work out any one way for anybody. Life needn’t work out any one way. Why are we imposing restrictions on ourselves? At any age, you take different things away from doing the same thing. I toured the US when I was 12, but if I go now (and I plan to), my experience will be vastly different. That’s not to say one’s better than the other, just that we need to stop telling ourselves that the best time to do anything is at a specific age. You don’t need to get married by 25, you don’t need to be settled in your career by 30. You can still go skydiving at 60, and you can still find somebody to love at 75.
That’s what I’m reminding myself these days, and it helps to remember it in the form of this quote by Maya Angelou:
Most people don’t grow up. Most people age. They find parking spaces, honor their credit cards, get married, have children, and call that maturity. What that is, is aging.
I don’t want to age. I just want to grow up, and then I want to keep growing.