It’s said that “growing old is compulsory; growing up is not”. Our notions of adulthood and maturity are vague and often contradictory. The legal age of becoming an adult has nothing to do with the development of an adult brain. Our brain continues to reshape itself until the late twenties and then continues to change, only more slowly and less radically.
One way to think about growing up is taking on responsibilities. Even here, there is little consensus. Studies of when people feel they have reached adulthood show significant cultural differences. US studies emphasise taking care of ourselves, making our own decisions and being financially independent. Chinese studies highlight caring for parents, having a long-term career and caring for children.
Another way to think of it is in terms of what we stop doing, or do less of. We acquire greater self-control, for example, and do fewer “childish” things. This can too easily extend to losing the ability to be playful.
Or perhaps we abandon the idea of growing up and think instead of just growing, which avoids all of the angst associated with trying to fit into an abstract, societally-imposed template of what it means to be an adult. The word “up” suggests superiority and can lead us to devalue who we were at previous points in our evolving identity.
Growing doesn’t have to be in one direction. The roots of a tree grow in every direction, as do the branches above. The taller a tree becomes, the stronger the roots it needs, if it is not to overbalance and fall down. Growing up is just one part of personal evolution. Becoming a whole person, occupying more of the space of our potential, is much more self-fulfilling. Being open to and curious about the many directions, in which we might grow, helps to maintain and strengthen the connection between our adult and youthful selves.
So, I have given up on growing up as a purposeful objective. Growing out – constantly extending the scope of my curiosity – is something I can become enthusiastic about. I’ll let the growing up take care of itself.
© David Clutterbuck 2022