Most of my life, as I supposed many others have done, I’ve pursued the evolution of myself. This is an idea that is deeply ingrained in North American culture, the continually pursuit of bigger and better. Some might call it the ‘grass is greener on the other side’ phenomenon.
For myself, this idea took its greatest form in my obsession with growing up. Now, I truly believe all children should have a healthy amount of ambition for growing up, lest we all fall into grotesquely imbalanced personas like Peter Pan’s. We should all look with some hope towards our futures, towards our personal growth and the exciting challenges it will bring. Yet, hoping towards a future and desperately believe all my 8-year-old problems would be solved by turning 13 are completely different ideas altogether. One, a healthy developmental tool, and the other a logical fallacy.
Grade One, I believed Grade Six was the pinnacle of life and success, and Grade Six brought dreams of Grade Seven. Grade Seven, similar to being in Grade Six was absolutely rotten so of course Grade Nine would be excellent–though I always knew in my heart of hearts University would be the crowning achievement of my life, as a put-together adult in an environment of my peers. My parents had fostered a healthy admiration for University, reinforced by 90’s and 2000’s culture of the awesome college experience cliche in sitcoms and movies.
Sadly, Grade Nine led to Grade Ten and a promotion into High School, which brought my angsty self into a weary three years of pain and torture. Laying in my bed at night I ran the gauntlet of existential crisis: Why am I here? What is the point of life? Do I even exist? What if faith is a lie? What will happen if both my parents die in a car crash and my 18-year-old brother has to raise me? To say the least, I slept very little in those days, but during these periods of introspection, I realized no matter how old I was getting nothing ever seemed to get better!
I made a couple decisions then, that when I went to University I wanted to be really open, experience a trial-by-fire (metaphorical fire), date a guy (maybe, but definitely not get married just yet), and figure out who the heck I was right then, and not who I’d be in five years. If this was to be the pinnacle of my life, and my entrance into adulthood then it would be as epic as I could muster!
And, honestly, I did more or less that. I lived in community (St. Stephen’s University) with an incredible group of people who pushed me to question myself in healthy ways that did border on self-inflicted existential crises. I experienced diversity in faith traditions and belief. I traveled. I grew. I fell in love with myself and my now husband. I also lost my mother to illness. I lost the dignity I had constructed for myself based on my rightness and my strength. I cried a lot, and my community members helped me grind down some of my sharp, and dangerous, edges. (I still have lots, of course, but we’re getting there.) Giving myself over to the life I had in the present was an incredibly rewarding experience, and my only regret is that it took 18 years for me to start figuring that out!
I left that place as someone, instead of a half-person always looking forward to being something. I had firm ground underneath me, and a keen new understanding of what being an adult could look like. With all the idealism I mustered I jumped into a new universe that I thought I was prepared for I realized. Yet, once again I learned that the world was a difficult place to exist in. I thought I had found myself as an adult, and I had, but that person was then asked to stretch farther.
Finding yourself is an exercise that must repeat constantly, however exhausting it may be.
Marriage, moving, finding and losing work, unemployment and bad bosses broken me open toreexamininge the person I was becoming, this newly discovered being that wasn’t finished forming. Being an adult, or a human being, is more than sanding down edges. When I began deconstructing my obsession with rightness and strength I had forgotten to discipline myself to grow in personal strength and self-knowing. Being an adult wasn’t just about learning to discern healthy paradigms from childish ones, it was also about setting yourself up in a space where you can grow. As the world changes around you, you need to be able to foster the skills and qualities that will help you thrive.
I was a child who had learned what being an adult meant, but I hadn’t realized how to grow myself into that person–appreciating where I was and where I could go.
Now, after a difficult two years out in the “real world” things are looking brighter. I’m trying not to obsess about where I’ll be next year or in five years, but appreciate where I’m at. I’m also trying not to be too hard on myself for not living the life I want in this moment, and instead filling my week with people and activities that will grow and sustain me.
I am content ‘here’; I am curious about ‘there’.
It’s exciting to reflect on, in a way. Looking back we can see how much the tree has grown and the shape it is taking. Maybe I was too young to do that before, only ever seeing the smallest growth. Right now, I feel like a sturdy sapling. There is something to me: a quality of strength, a direction, a genre. I think I would make Sixth Grade me proud, only I wish I could tell her how proud I am of her–that she’s getting here/there, one day at a time, and there’s no shame in that.