There are so many moments in life when we are told to ‘grow’. Sometimes it’s to ‘grow up’ or it’s to ‘grow out of it’ or it’s even to ‘grow a pair’. I always struggle with these terms because growing means so many different things to so many people. And more often than not does ‘growing’ imply to conform to what the other person or society wants you to grow towards.
I want to take a few moments and explore in a little more depth what it can mean to ‘grow’ and why it might not have anything to do with plants.
We all grow physically, from newborns to adults. Some people then shrink again when they get older. Some people also stop growing at one point and others keep growing, getting taller. We change physically all our life.
But we don’t necessarily grow mentally all our lives.
There is a certain leader in the world right now who has more often than not been described as the child in the room. It’s alleged that his mental growth didn’t keep up with his physical growth. Now, I know for sure that he’s not the only one like that. I know people who also haven’t grown up in the same as other people.
There are people we generally view as being grown up. But what does that even mean, to be grown-up? Does growing eventually stop?
To be grown-up
I wrestle with the definition of ‘growing up’. Does being grown-up mean to have all the worldly possessions as everyone else? Does ‘being grown-up’ mean to have a house, a car, a mortgage? Is that what ‘grown-up’ means?
I would argue that we never grow up. There is never a point in our life where we are or feel grown-up. The reason is simply that being ‘grown-up’ is all in the eye of the beholder.
I had a funny conversation with a family member over Christmas. Living the way my family and I live, which is on rented land in our own tiny house on wheels, that family member said to me that she wishes we would find something of our own and finally settle. I was stunned.
Here I was thinking that I had everything that would constitute a grown-up life: I have kids, my own house, a car, and, yes, a mortgage. Was I still not where my family member wanted me to be?
Since that conversation I’ve been thinking a lot about why I reacted the way I did. I felt offended and not valued as a grown-up. But why? And I think the answer is two-fold.
Growing towards the expectation and norm
I don’t live like many other people. My family and I have adopted a very different life to other people my age, in fact. I don’t tick the boxes that are around me. In short, I don’t meet the expectation, of my family member and of society.
There is an expectation placed upon us from a very early age. Children develop a sense of who they want to be at an early age. My daughter is four right now and it’s pretty clear to her that she will be a ballerina. I dread the day that she swaps that dream for something else, something more reasonable (fingers crossed she won’t). At the age of around 18, she will have to decide what (else) she wants to do with her life.
We are expected to ‘grow up’ and figure out what we want to do pretty early. And that choice is supposed to be final and fulfilling at the same time. I wonder though, what happens when it’s not? What happens if we wake up one morning and realise that the choice(s) we made in the past were wrong. What happens then?
Growing towards your values and ideals
The biggest struggle for me has been to accept the fact that I’m not ‘growing up linear’. I didn’t leave school with a clear path laid out for me. In fact, for the past 15 years, I tried many different things. While many of these things didn’t go the way I thought they would and I struggled with disorientation, there is something that grew: my sense of values.
We all hold values inside us but not many of us are aware of what they are and how they play out in everyday life. For example, my number one value is authenticity. I stay true to what I believe is right and if something goes against my believes I either change it or leave it. In the past, I’ve never done this purposefully. But I did it without realising that this value is inside me. Only through careful self-reflection did I notice that being true to myself shapes each and every one of my decisions. If I feel that something doesn’t sit right with me, I move away.
These internal values are present in all of us but it can take some serious effort to find them. Our values shine through in decisions we make or in choices we leave. Most often we don’t know why something is the way it is. Most often, it’s due to our values.
Our values grow and change as we do throughout life. Some of them might stay the same but some of them might be slightly different as we move through different stages of our lives.
They will, however, never disappear.
When I think about growing up, I also think about what it means to grow up in values.
However, there is no such thing as immature values. Children have different values than adults but nevertheless do they have the same validity. The problem only arises when our values don’t change with our seasons of life.
Sharpening our values
Growing up doesn’t just mean to grow up to what society expects of us, to what our family thinks we should be doing, or to what we ourselves might think we should have accomplished by now. Growing up means to understand that our values change, they become sharper and more definite in most cases. Our values determine what our next steps will be and if our current state is where we want to be.
There are times in life, where those values might be undermined by something or someone. If we are not true to our values, we can begin to feel frustrated, numb, guilty or ashamed. These feeling can be momentary while making decisions or take over our life. If we lose touch with our values, we can begin to feel hopeless.
When we notice that we are at such a point, a point where we aren’t true to our values, it’s time to make a change. And that time for change will then be part of our journey of growing up.
Growing up in(to) unique shapes
The challenging aspect of growing up is to see oneself as a unique person and the story of our life as a unique one. In fact, not many people have a linear line of growing up and that’s okay. In fact, it’s the norm and not the ideal.
I’m writing these lines in a phase in my life where I know my values and I think I’m on a track to living up to them. I don’t know if my path is right and I don’t know if my values will always stay the same but it feels right for now. And that’s the most important part for me.
Growing out of beliefs in ourselves that might have been keeping us hostage for a long time is a process. Understanding what we actually value is also part of the path.
There is no one who can walk that path for us and there might be very few people who can walk the path beside us, most often only temporarily. And that’s both the challenge and the beauty of growing up. It’s an act of self-discovery, of understanding who we really are, what we really want, and maybe even how we get there. But the journey won’t stop and while our values might change, we must change to feel in-sync.