Adulthood Isn't an Age
Yes, all those other parents were right: kids grow up too fast. I look at these two middle schoolers that we’ve got at home and I can barely get over how big and mature they’re getting. Facebook’s memories remind me so often of when these big guys were just little guys, and it moves me every single time. My little boys are growing up, and they’re growing up too fast.
Yet, we all sort of know that getting older isn’t the same as growing up. Those countless times that my older siblings told me to “grow up” and stop annoying them wasn’t them asking me to get bigger and get older; they wanted me to act more maturely.
Our societal rite of passage into adulthood is graduating high school and turning the legal age of 18. There may be other familial, religious, or biological rites of passage too (such as taking care of younger siblings, bat mitzvah, and menstruation), but most of us tend to agree that 18 is when we become an adult.
Biologically, we’re ready for reproduction in early adolescence. Neurologically, we’re not fully grown until 24-28 years old. Emotionally and spiritually, many of us don’t ever seem to make it to adulthood.
Until 25 years old or so, our lives are in rapid transition. We change by the month or by the year at the longest. Then, when we finally are adults in a neuro-biological sense around 25, we still experience so many transitions, changes in life status as well as biology. The changes seem to be more subtle beyond age 25, but they’re certainly there (I'm in the midst of a mid-life transition myself).
I think our culture is making a mistake by thinking of adulthood as beginning at a specific age. There's nothing wrong with making this mistake, but there is a missed opportunity. I prefer to think of adulthood as a way of being, an approach, or an experience.
How many of us have lost someone close to us from alcohol or drugs, or watched someone’s life wither in the face of addiction of any kind? How many more of us experience general struggle, stress, and anxiety as we grapple with life’s responsibilities and our own well-being? Then there’s the sense that there’s something more to this life, something just beyond where we are but we can’t quite seem to get there or tap into it.
Add to that our vastly larger shared challenges like social disruption and inequality, environmental degradation, large-scale extinction, and a consumerism that doesn’t satiate our desires yet carries an often unseen wake of negative environmental and social impact.
I don’t write this to catastrophize or try to scare you into caring about what I care about. I’m just being honest about the facts. We face our own individual challenges, we face local and regional challenges, we face national challenges, and we face global challenges. And we face them without a consistent level of awareness, accountability, and realization of our own innate capacities to creatively solve problems and live life in wellness.
The promise of adulthood is realized capacities for well-being, satisfaction, enjoyment, appreciation, community, love, and effectiveness. We, our loved ones, the human race, and the planet are crying to be well. And we’ve all got the capacity for it - we always have and always will.
Whether we know how to tap into it is a different question. There are consistent, effective ways to tap into it, and that's the game I want schools playing.
I propose that we add to the high school foundation of knowledge a foundation of awareness: an awareness of the self as an agent in creating, fostering, and transforming our experience of life; an awareness of the self as innately capable, free, and desirous of living a life of well-being; an awareness of the self as part of a community in fostering well-being in others and our environment.
To me, the real definition of adulthood is fully realizing our response-ability - the capacity to creatively respond to any circumstances without constraint. We all have that capacity built into us as humans; most of us just haven’t learned yet how to effectively and consistently tap into it.
Let’s change that.
Thanks so much for engaging with my work. ❤️