I vividly recall the first time that someone told me that I was acting immaturely and needed to grow up. I was in seventh grade, and the person who told me what I needed to hear was Nancy Smith, my yearbook staff adviser. Our junior high had one of the premiere junior high yearbooks in the country (the Cedar Bayou Bruin). Ms. Smith had built the staff into a select group of students that had been identified and chosen with the help of her teaching colleagues. Her teacher friends were always scouting for the students that had creativity and the “right stuff” for the staff. There were only four of us seventh graders selected to work alongside twice that many eighth graders. For the maturity difference between those eighth graders and me at the start, they might as well have been college seniors. They were extremely mature relative to me.
The problem was that I did not really understand what “mature” and “immature” meant. I did not know that the others were actually not laughing WITH me but AT me. Ms. Smith wanted to be sure that I understood the expectations of being on the staff and that I began to grow up so I could become a true part of the team.
It seems to me that many of us give up childhood very reluctantly. This should not be surprising because childhood is (or at least should be) carefree, fun, and joyful. Who would want to leave that? However, it the responsibility of every person who is capable of growing up to grow up. The time comes for everyone to make that step, however painful it might be.
Simply aging is not the same as growing up. We all know 35 year old adolescents. I think I have even met some 60 year old kids. What do you think when you see someone saying or doing something that is not appropriate to his age? You probably think or say that he should “Grow up.”
What does it mean to grow up?
- Face Reality. Children live in a fantasy world, and that is appropriate for them. Their world begins “once upon a time” and ends “happily ever after.” I realize there are notable exceptions to this, with far too many children who know with certainty that this is not a happily ever after world. Part of growing up is accepting our world as it is and learning to work within the truth of our existence. When you begin to awaken to reality, you begin to leave childhood behind. There may be sadness associated with this, but it is required for adulthood.
- Take Responsibility. There is no power in blaming everyone else for your faults and failures. The most successful people in life are those who refuse to let themselves off the hook. They refuse to blame others or make excuses. They simply recognize that they are responsible. They embrace responsibility. There is power that issues from that embrace.
- Delay Gratification. This is one of the supreme challenges of adulthood. Because adults face reality and take responsibility, they learn to delay gratification. Children want it NOW!! Have you ever witnessed an “episode” in the grocery store where the child wanted the cookies/candy/ice cream/whatchamacallit and wanted it NOW? Adults know the truth spoken by Mick Jagger that you can’t always get what you want. A fascinating article by Pamela Druckerman in The Wall Street Journal argues that one of the reasons French parents are effective is that they teach patience and delayed gratification to their children. If I go out and buy a $100,000 car on a $30,000 salary, I have not learned delayed gratification. Patience is not easy for any of us, but it is a true characteristic of adulthood. Druckerman’s book is Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (now with Bébé Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting)
- Dump Selfishness. To most children, the world revolves around them. We parents often observe selfishness in even very young children. If a 40 year old person carries a self-centered approach into a marriage, a job, or any other relationship, it is not going to go well. Adults care about other people. They learn to put others’ welfare above their own. They learn to sacrifice for those they love and care about.
- Develop Vision and a Story. Children think in a very short time-frame. With our son I sometimes thought his time-frame was the next five minutes. The world of children is dominated by adults, who tell them where to be and what to do at any one time. Mom says, “It’s time to catch the bus.” The coach says, “Give me two laps.” This is appropriate for a child, but the time comes when no one is going to force you to do anything. You can do nothing if you so choose. Society will let you go and leave you to your own devices. There are real consequences to remaining a child in an adult world. Adulthood requires that you begin thinking in longer time-frames. Instead of the next five minutes, you start to think about the next year. You develop a vision for the next five years, your education, your career, your family, your retirement, and eternity. That is an adult move. When you develop a vision and a Forward Story you can begin to take actions that will lead you in the direction of that vision.
Growing up is part of life. It is painful in many ways, but the payoff is worth it. I remember being a little hurt when Ms. Smith told me I needed to grow up. I winced at the realization that those older kids were laughing at me. Thanks to her, though, I took it to heart and began to try to grow up. She prevented me from prolonging a childhood in the midst of people who were already doing their own growing up. Thanks, Nancy!