Tag Archive: growing up

This past month, I celebrated 28 years of glorious existence on this earth; namely “glorious” because unlike my fellow wacky artistic types, I was smart enough not to find permanent membership on the “Dead at 27” list.

Like all of my birthdays that had come prior, I found myself being showered with varying sums of money from my relatives. Now, I’m not certain where said tradition originated: perhaps I was denoted long ago as one of those “hard to buy for” individuals or maybe my family members simply have the extra disposable cash. Either way, for as long as I can remember, the August season has consistently been ushered in by the receipt of cheque-filled envelope upon envelope in my mailbox.

I jokingly remarked to my mom this year, “When do you think I’ll reach the cut-off age? I’ve come to rely on receiving that extra annual income.” While I assure you the aforementioned statement was entirely made in jest, it brought to light an interesting modern day dilemma: at what age is one now considered an quote unquote adult? In other words, it’d be hard to imagine me (or anyone for that matter!) reaching 40 or 50 years of age and still receiving birthday spending money from their extended family members.

If we trace back through human history, “adulthood” was seemingly easier to define. In the Medieval era, a woman was signed up for marriage and childbirth the moment she demonstrated her first signs of fertility. During the early 1900s, mandatory military training began for boys as early as age 10. The moment you hit 18, you’d be enlisted to the draft lottery, whether you were a lover or a fighter. In stark contrast, in today’s world, we, as a country, can’t even seem to agree upon what the legal drinking age should be!

Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for men and women within their late 20s and 30s to still be floundering when it comes to a set career path and/or reliant on their parents for financial support. Despite having access to superior education and opportunities, many of us (and it’s not for lack of trying) just can’t seem to “grow up”. Of course, this calls into question yet another existential dilemma: what exactly does it mean to be “grown up”?

But before we open that can of worms, there’s another query that requires addressing: “why does any of this matter?” Well, psychological research has uncovered time and time again that humans’ number one fear is death (public speaking, interestingly, ranks second). Given that humans, as a species, are able to cognitively contemplate existence and come to grips with the notion that ALL living things are tied to a fairly predictable life cycle, it must be understood that this fear is not simply about losing the function of one’s physical form. In order to understand death and our fear of it then, one must look beyond its literal meaning and instead into the world of symbolism.

Intertwined with the fear of death is also a “fear of the unknown” (ie: What happens when I lose my physical form? Is there an afterlife? Should I have believed in something? Will I return in another form in the future?). More pertinent to our discussion however, a fear of death is as well largely tied to a “fear of failure” (ie: I’m running out of time. There are so many things I want/ed to accomplish. How will I be remembered? Did I do enough?) Whether you are consciously aware of it or not, each year we age, these types of contemplations become increasingly important to us.

What I’m trying to get at is that throughout our history and even still today, “adulthood” has been defined by the accomplishment of specific milestones at set ages: a standardized checklist, if you will, of obtaining education (teens to 20s), establishing/maintaining a career (mid 20s to 50s), getting married (late 20s to early 30s), having 2.5 kids (late 20s to early 30s), buying a home with a snazzy white picket fence (mid to late 30s), retirement (mid 60s) and so forth. This “idealization” however fails to take into account changing social, political and cultural circumstances. Accordingly, many of us live “stressed out” and become increasingly depressed as we age because we’re unable to “measure up.”

As humans are a social species that highly value group membership, failing to accomplish these established “life goals” (as determined by our larger social group) presents yet another potential fear coming to light: that of ostracism. In other words, there’s no worst “death” than “dying alone.”

Taking all of the above into consideration, I’d like to suggest that this traditional model of “adulthood” is short-sighted and out-dated (to say the least). Having life goals IS absolutely essential, BUT in my 28 years on earth, if in fact I’ve learned anything, it’s this simple truth: true age and “maturity” (and therefore what constitutes adulthood/growing up) cannot and should NOT be merely defined by a number OR series of tangible accomplishments. After all, we’ve all known “adults” whose behaviour is juvenile, at best, and “children” who take us by surprise by the wisdom they effortlessly espouse.

Instead, I’d like to propose that we should assess age (and “adulthood”) by one’s level of “psychological maturity”: the ability to encounter all of life’s circumstances with a non-defensive introspective empathetic responsible point of view. Yes, I know that’s a rather loaded statement! It goes without saying that maintaining consistency when it comes to adopting/applying a “psychologically mature” perspective is by far the most trying aspect of this entire exercise.

Never fear my friends! With that said, this month’s lesson comes directly off of a page from my recent birthday book: ASK QUESTIONS. Rarely is there a time something should be accepted at its “face value” or “assumed” about. True understanding and therefore appropriate “mature” reaction is ONLY possible when one has inquired to learn all sides of the equation.

Col4_FriendshipAs a Leo, one of my strongest traits is my sense of loyalty: believe me, I would do ANYTHING for the people I love. BUT, there comes a time in one’s life wherein your relationship dynamics with others vastly change.

As we age, enter long-term romantic partnerships and begin to plan out our futures (careers and otherwise), we want to be surrounded by those who not only have similar interests, but also SIMILAR VALUES. We lose patience for the drama-rama b.s. and we frankly also don’t have time for it (especially when we start to pump out babies!).

In a nutshell, we want our friends to be there for us when the going gets tough, but we also want the assurance of knowing that if we cannot see or speak to them for a few months on end, our relationships will NOT fall apart over trivialities. The key therefore to maintaining mature adult relationships does not revolve around how much time is spent together, but letting the other person know how much you truly VALUE the time you do spend together.

As Aristotle pointed out in his work The Nichomachean Ethics oh-so-many years ago, there are three basic friendship formation patterns and those patterns typically (though not always) correspond with age (psychological age that is):

1) Friendships Based on Pleasure: this type of friendship provides you with enjoyable company and/or affection. In elementary school, for example, two pals may bond over nothing more than a shared love for a board game or cartoon giving them a partner with whom they can participate in recreational pursuits.

2) Friendships Based on Utility: this type of friendship provides you with access to something you desire; you may or may not even like the individual beyond what they can “get” you. For example, in highschool, friendships are often pretentious (or strategic, depending upon how you look at things) based on little beyond trying to score points popularity-wise or using someone for their partying “ins”.

3) Friendships Based on Goodness: this type of friendship is based upon a deeper bond in that you desire the person’s company because you see good in them, but also desire good for that individual in a selfless manner because of a genuine care for them. Friendships based on goodness are the definition of TRUE mature adult friendships.

As I’m sure it’s pretty self-evident based upon the above descriptions, as one’s life situation evolves their friend circle(s) typically follow suit. For instance, if you’re involved in a romantic relationship, you likely have more “couples friends” than your single counterparts. Similarly, if you’ve just embarked on your professional journey, you’ll start to meet people (with whom you likely have more in common than your school buddies) via work, networking parties and travel.

With all of this said, there will unavoidably be some painful friendship dissolutions given that not everyone grows up at the same rate…or sometimes at all. I mean, if you’ve got a spouse, kids, fancy car and career, do you really think you’ll still be hanging out with one of your highschool buddies who hit his/her peak in their teens and continues to recall their glory days in drunken hazes? I’m gonna hazard a guess and say probably not. It comes down to this: you simply no longer have the same things (hobbies nor values) in common as you’re no longer leading lives in the same direction. Let me break it down to you via a personal momento:

Remember that “trainwreck” friend of mine I was telling you about last week? I felt it only fair to relay to you the conclusion of our story. Like any dysfunctional largely one-sided relationship, it could only last so long. The breaking point for me coincided with the traumatic breakup with my fiancé (nothing like a double whammy):

When she had heard the news of our split, she rushed to my aid and attempted to build me back up, swearing that if she ever came face-to-face with him again, she’d give him a serious piece of her mind and a full-on ass kicking. Despite her apparent disgust with my ex’s philandering, a month later I discovered apparently SHE had been “dating” a MARRIED man WHO HAD KIDS and was STILL LIVING WITH HIS WIFE! What’s worse is that she was perfectly okay with the fact their dates consisted of going to strip clubs together!

She claimed he didn’t love his wife but HAD to stay with her “for the sake of the kids” (right….). I asked her to think about his wife sitting at home – how she might feel if she found out about their affair? I asked her to picture ME at home being the wife that was being screwed around on. Did that make the situation any less kosher for her to swallow?

As per my friend’s typical style, it was excuse upon excuse and allowance upon allowance. Nothing I had said or done for her throughout the time we’d known each other seemed to have made any impact. She got herself into a mess yet again and somehow justified it. Yet, couldn’t even fathom of the fact that the HELL she was now experiencing (ie: our final fight) was BROUGHT ON BY HERSELF. I knew it’d be the same old story. I knew she’d once again spin it for sympathy. If you can believe it, she actually tried to throw in MY face that my love for her was supposed to be “unconditional” and how dare I ruin our friendship over her personal choices.

As you know, I bailed her out time and time again, but the difference in this circumstance was pretty black and white: how could I reasonably accept her actions YET simultaneously reject those of my partner when they were one in the same? Wouldn’t that make me the world’s biggest hypocrite and/or pushover? Wouldn’t that make me a serious victim of what Festinger coined “cognitive dissonance”?! Indeed it would. Indeed I couldn’t. Not to mention as a feminist, I had/have some pretty serious objections to the concept of a “strip club” being an appropriate setting for a date…but I digress.

So as it were, with my engagement went one of my so-called “best” friends. But as I hope all of you have gathered at this point, ALL healthy mature adult relationships are about mutuality first and foremost. I think it’s safe to say that NEITHER my engagement nor above described friendship fit that description.

There’s a distinct difference between growing up and acting grown up. While the former refers to the physical/hormonal/biological changes one’s body undergoes as (s)he literally ages on an annual basis, the latter is a much more complex psychological development that requires an active acknowledgement of one’s own behaviours, motivations, attitudes, prejudices, strengths…and MOST importantly faults; a concept referred to as “introspection”.

While in theory, it’d make sense for the two aforementioned processes to work in a symbiotic fashion, I think it goes without saying we’ve all met adults who act like children, and even vice versa.

Over the next few months while you’re busy with your studies, I’d like to have the opportunity to impart onto you the psychological wisdom, by means of illustrative anecdotal (and often humourous, I hope) examples from my real life, I’ve acquired through my dutiful career as a professional student (seven years and counting!) and also frankly as a result of my family being perfectly primed to launch their own hit reality series.

The benefit of said mission is twofold:
1) I get a fantastic means of venting about human stupidity to which I’m sure all of you can relate.

2)Hopefully, in some small way, I will contribute to bettering your relationships with others and perhaps you’ll be inspired to “pay” this knowledge “forward”.

So without further explanation of my motives and/or legitimation, let’s get down to it…

How does one, pray tell, begin to engage in the act of introspection? Well, quite simply, it starts with a little bit of soul searching [ie: taking the time to analyze the things about yourself of which you’re proud AS WELL AS the things about yourself (and the activities of which you’ve been a part) that you’d rather NOT divulge.] Think about ties between events and/or significant persons in your life (such as your parents) which may have influenced the development of certain personality traits. For example, my crazy Italian temper (I like to refer to her as “psychotica”) 100% without a doubt was inherited. No offense pops!

The point of this exercise is to get to know what makes YOU tick. Ask YOURSELF why YOU believe in certain laws, morals, conspiracies, principles etc. and why others you could care less about. If your answer is simply because “you’ve been told to” or “that’s just how it’s always been”, you’re NOT digging deep enough.

Remember, you always have the option of rejecting new information as it comes your way and analyzing it for potentially hidden biases. In sum, DON’T accept anything or anyone, including aspects of your innermost self at “face value”; there’s always more lingering beneath the surface than meets the eye. As much as we may not wish to admit it, we are products of the environments to which we’ve been exposed and history has a funny way of repeating itself. Again, thanks dad!

Okay, so if you’re now thinking, “that sounds like a rather trying exercise and I’m still in the process of convincing myself (and others) that sleeping with my friend’s significant other in a drunken haze was all just a bad dream, “ here’s where the good part comes in:

The result of introspection (and let me make clear it’s an ongoing journey) when done effectively is, for lack of a better word, pretty damn “kickass”. You’ll truly KNOW yourself, have FAITH and STRENGTH in your motivations (and therefore less likelihood of regretting your actions), CONFIDENCE in your abilities (but never arrogance or cockiness), IMPROVED coping and strategy skills, but most importantly overall HEALTHIER, more RESILIENT and more MATURE interactions with everyone you encounter. Not to mention, Plato seems to think it was a pretty cool idea: “Why should we not calmly and patiently review our own thoughts, and thoroughly examine and see what these appearances in us really are?” (Theaetetus, circa 360 B.C.E)

So, with all of that said, why does everyone not participate in this activity? Well, to give you an analogy, I’d like to answer a question with a question: why do people continue to “yo-yo diet” or starve themselves when there is more than sufficient evidence indicating the only healthy and functional way to achieve one’s maximum physical condition is to lead a consistently well-balanced lifestyle and diet? In other words…laziness and well, some people are just content being assholes.

Don’t kid yourself, introspection, like any complex thought process, requires CONSISTENT, FOCUSED and HONEST effort. Even so, there will still be times in which the brat in you rears its ugly head.

In conclusion, I bid you all well with your cerebral unfurling and sincerely encourage you to contact me if one of these times my ranting strikes a fancy in you. Oh…and in case you’re wondering, my dry sarcastic wit is the result of my mom and far too much exposure to Monty Python movies.