Long Days and Short Years

just trying to pay attention so I don't miss my life

When I Grow Up

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Do you ever feel like you’re lost in your own life?

It had been a long day, and it wasn’t over yet.  Buried in piles of laundry and dishes–piles endlessly mocking my small efforts by their ability to reproduce–I bowed my head.  There were other weights too.   My latest submission to a magazine had been ignored, I had decided not to interview for my “perfect job” because of the time commitment, and the preschool tuition bills were just over the horizon.  With my husband’s salary we could get by–barely–but here I was, an able-bodied person with lots of school debt and no career to show for it.

I groaned, sitting at the kitchen counter, watching my housemate balance a tower of plastic bowls.  “I just don’t know,” I complained, “what I’m going to be when I grow up.”  He smiled sympathetically.

Later I wondered at my own comment.  What in the world did that have to do with anything?  Weren’t all the grown-up responsibilities that surrounded me proof enough of my grown-up-ness?  What more was I looking for?

“Business cards,” I decided, “Business cards that I didn’t pay for, a whole bunch of them in a box with some organization’s logo on them.  And a paycheck, not too big, but enough at least to cover my school loan payments.  Business lunches, conferences, maybe a title…”

I had to stop myself before I started stealing the company pens in my mind.

Of course, at some point I checked my own shallowness.  Being a grown-up has to do with having your name on cardstock rectangles?  Could it really be all about money or titles or expense accounts?  I don’t believe this to be true, so why was I doubting myself?  It’s almost as bad as saying that in order to be a grown-up you have to buy a house, get married, and have kids (would anyone like to argue that Mother Theresa wasn’t a grown-up?).

After all, there is no way I would judge my friends in the same way.  Many, many of them have followed non-linear career paths, just trying to find their way.  Some of found extremely linear career paths but are without the house-spouse-kid credentials.  Some have lost jobs, some are divorced, some are single parents… the list of life’s complications goes on and on.  Would I consider them “not yet grown up?”  No way.

So what does it mean to be a grown-up?  I’m not even sure that this is a helpful question.  How about–Congrats Jen, you’re over 18.  Now what kind of grown-up will you be?  Cause as I consider many of my fellow grown-ups, I realize that their maturity has very little to do with their net worth or the picture on their Christmas postcard.

The most-grown-up grown ups I know are wise, humble, compassionate, and a pleasure to be around.  They actually listen when you talk to them, even if you are not yet a grown-up.  They have a sense of humor about themselves, and try to help when they can.  They have not become these things through a degree program (though some have degrees).  It is not their “career” to be wise and humble (though some have been shaped in the midst of their jobs).  Having kids didn’t push them over the line (though it really helps with having a sense of humor about oneself).

These people, the ones I would like to emulate, have simply grown up a bit more every day.  They are grown-ups in a very active sense, “the growing-up ones”, verbs instead of nouns.  They haven’t arrived, and would probably laugh at the thought.  If they have business cards, they just don’t take them too seriously.  And if they don’t, like me, they don’t take that too seriously either.

Besides, I’ve heard that laundry is very good for character-building.

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