When you were a little lass or lad, did you dream about the future? I figured by now we’d experience stuff like routine space or at least easy and cheap world-wide travel. I thought bullets would be replaced by lasers. I didn’t know about cars – I suppose I didn’t think it would be like the Jetsons, with the ability to fold up our personal spaceships into briefcases, but I thought vehicles would at least self-pilot and you wouldn’t have to worry about collisions and traffic jams.
In your childhood musings about the future, what did you think life would be like as a grownup? I was way off there, too. Oh, I had some big ideas – I thought I’d be a captain of industry, or maybe a record producer. (I had a short flirtation with the idea of being a rock star but I was more Screech than Roger Daltrey, so record producer seemed more achievable.) I thought the world would be my oyster. I valued flash and adoration.
It hasn’t quite turned out that way. My life isn’t glamorous. But I wouldn’t exchange my blessings for glory – I just didn’t know enough in my youth to dream about those.
We don’t see the future very well, because we don’t know what we don’t know. I know I’m at least a bit “grown up” because I don’t really daydream about the future so much anymore. Maybe that’s a part of growing up – facing the realities of the present day. Let’s call that an attribute of a grownup.
So that begs a question. What are “grownup” attributes – what distinguishes full maturity from the various stages of development and why is the process important?
When you look around our society, do you see it as particularly mature? I’m sorry to say that I believe that our bar is very low. What I mean is that our discourse in the family, workplace, and the public forum leaves a lot of room for improvement. And by improvement I mean that the level of mutual respect, service to others, enjoyment in communication and fellowship, and emotional and intellectual growth could all be much greater. Alarmingly, I think we’ve been losing ground in these areas for quite some time.
Why? Because another attribute of the grownup is responsibility. That means that a person can be counted to take care of business. In our society, too many people are deficient in the responsibility department. This is a rising trend because of many complicated factors. These include such blights as politicians who stoke dependency, an attitude of moral relativism, and racial, ethnic, and class-based resentments. In my opinion, a large portion of our social trouble is exacerbated by individuals willing to pass the buck of their personal responsibility to accept a scrap of illusory security.
There’s another level of responsibility – response-ability. This means that we cultivate our capacity to accurately evaluate circumstances and take consistent actions that optimize outcomes for ourselves and others. This seems a more advanced stage of development. A society that behaves like this would function with more joy and prosperity, less strife and suffering, because individuals would be better citizens, workers, bosses, spouses, parents, friends, teachers, etc.
Another critical attribute of a grownup is self-knowledge. By this I mean that we know who we are, we know what we’re about, we’re clear on how we contribute to others, and we’re comfortable enough to acknowledge both our strengths and human shortcomings. We do very well in this regard when we are clear about our God-given purpose in life. This has the effect of immunizing us against distraction and detraction.
I suppose what I’m saying is that being a grownup means that we face reality with a sense of personal responsibility and a clear picture of how we contribute in this world. As I look at these attributes, I’m struck by one connective thread – courage. It takes courage to grow up. The other side of that coin is that it is fear that stunts our development.
So the best way to more fully become who you truly are is to face your fears. This might mean tough introspection, finally having that confrontational conversation, or making a big, potentially life-changing decision. I suspect that if you do take those actions, you’ll find that the fear was mostly a lie and that the rewards were greater than you had imagined. You might not fold your car into a briefcase, but you might find more joy in your everyday activities.