[Note: I originally wrote this piece as the intro to my (still in process!) list of reasons why I will never grow up. I've decided to put this in a separate blog post because I would rather that the Never Growing Up post remain pure, something that's just a list on its own rather than being specifically tied to my last birthday, or to age 29.]
When I turned 29 this year, there was something I wanted for my birthday. Something extra-special. Something that would have been a challenge for anyone to attempt to give to me. I wanted a list of 29 reasons that being 29 was awesome. Awesome as in, better than being younger than 29. When you’re a kid, there’s so much excitement about what you get to do when you get older, but once you’re over 21, everything that everyone says about your age is just so depressing. Every “You know you’re over 25 when…” list you find online is full of negative, no-fun things. What I desperately wanted was a list of reasons why I would actually want to be 29, as opposed to any other age.
But when I discussed this desire with my friend Eli, I quickly realized that the list was never going to work. First of all (most importantly), almost everything I would put on a list of reasons why it’s great to be an adult would support the oppression of children. Okay, there are a few things that I really couldn’t have done safely when I was child, such as driving a car, living on my own, and being able to go places on my own. Those freedoms are great things about being an adult, and those are freedoms that I really couldn’t have when I was younger. But other freedoms – like being able to eat what I want and go to bed when I want and see friends whenever I want and swearing without getting in trouble and not having to do homework or chores or forced socializing – those are freedoms that I should have had when I was a child. To list those freedoms as reasons that it’s great to be an adult would normalize the idea that it is acceptable to deny those freedoms to children. Not a day goes by that I’m not genuinely thrilled that I never have to go to school again, but I never should have had to go to school in the first place. Most things that are positive about being an adult are basic freedoms that are denied to children, and it’s a problem that adults deny those freedoms to children, rather than it being a celebration to get those freedoms as an adult.
So if we eliminate all of the things I’m “allowed” to do now, that I should have be able to do as a child, what are we left with? Not much. There are skills, of course. But skills don’t correspond precisely to a person’s age. There are people younger than me who can write better than I can, and there are people older than me who cannot write as well as I can. Yes, I can write much better now than I could when I was younger, but that is more about the time I’ve spent practicing than it is about my age. I have not done gymnastics since I was 10, and I am actually less skilled at gymnastics now because I have gone such a long time without practicing. Yes, I love having skills that I didn’t have when I was younger, but those skills are not inherent to my age. You don’t just get to be a good writer by becoming 29, the same way that you get to see an R-rated movie when you’re 17.
And the things that come easier to me now are more about life experience than about age. In my first job, I was walking on eggshells. I was terrified that if I made one tiny mistake, I’d get fired. I was freaked out the first time I had to miss work for a doctor’s appointment (for something serious) because I thought my boss would judge me harshly for not making it outside of work hours. In fact, I was scared of my boss simply because she was my boss. I never talked to her or asked how her weekend was or anything because I was just so nervous. (And my boss was very nice and not intimidating at all – this was just me being worried and walking on eggshells). I can say that at my current job, I am way past that anxiety that I felt when I first started, and being comfortable at work has greatly improved my quality of life. But again, this is about experience rather than age. If I had started working at an earlier age, I would have moved past that job-anxiety much earlier as well. It’s not something magical that happens because you turn 29.
So I reached the conclusion that I could never really have that list of 29 reasons why it’s great to be 29. Not in the sense that I was thinking. So I decided instead to make a list of reasons that I will never grow up.
First, you notice a problem with your vision. In my case, it was the blackboard at school. I returned from summer vacation one year and couldn't read anything on the chalkboard unless I was sitting in the front row. It had never been an issue before, but yet, I wasn't quite sure what the problem was now. I knew what blurry looked like because I had looked through my parents' glasses before. I always imagined that people just woke up one day and everything suddenly looked blurry and it would be perfectly clear to them that they needed glasses. But that's not at all how it happened to me. I went a full year whispering to my classmates to ask what was on the board, getting things wrong because I didn't copy them down right, and not understanding why I couldn't read the board when my classmates could. It was close to the end of the year when a teacher caught the problem and told me that I needed glasses.
What surprised me the most when I learned that I needed glasses was that everything else looked the same to me - I could still see people and trees and cars and buildings perfectly clearly. The world looked nothing like what I thought "blurry" would look like. It couldn't read the blackboard, but everything else was fine.
At least, I thought it was fine.
That first moment that I put my glasses on, I could not believe how bright the world was. Everything around me was suddenly so colorful and sharp and detailed. I could see all the leaves on the trees, and all the petals on the flowers, and individual blades of grass on the lawn. I could make out people's faces from a distance. I just could not believe how bright and colorful the world was, and how much I had been missing all that time.
But I didn't realize that anything was wrong before. I didn't know that I could see all the leaves on the trees and all the stars in the sky. I only noticed that one problem - that I couldn't read the blackboard. For everything else, I had no way to know what I was missing until that moment that I put on my glasses.
That's what happened on this day three years ago, April, 15, 2014. My breakup anniversary. It was a similar kind of illumination. Like the blackboard, I was aware of a few specific problems with our relationship, but it wasn't until we actually broke up that I realized just how different, how much better everything felt without him. The same way I never knew what I was missing when I needed glasses, I never realized just how much I was being held back from being who I truly wanted to be, until the moment that we actually broke up.
Here's one example: One conflict we had was that I did not want kids and he did. (I talked to him about this issue early on in our relationship, but he refused to discuss it with me). I always said that I would never, EVER have children if I did not personally want them just so that I could stay with him. I always said that. But on some subconscious level, I didn't fully believe it. Somewhere deep down, I was actually really scared that I was going to end up having children when I didn't want them. I felt like I had a limited amount of time to do all the things I actually wanted to do, that ending up married with kids was this inevitable path I was stuck on. I kept saying no to that out loud, but on a subconscious level, I didn't fully believe the no. I was in a relationship with someone who wanted something major that I didn't, and I couldn't reconcile that. I used to worry a lot that I was gonna get on a path that was the opposite of where I wanted to be.
But it wasn't until we broke up that I realized just how deeply that fear was affecting me. After we broke up, I felt this strange sense of relief. That fear that I might end up having children I didn't want someday was lifted, and I felt so free. I finally felt secure that I could make that choice, and I didn't realize how much I was missing that security until we broke up.
I got that security in a lot of ways. One of the reasons we were incompatible is that I know exactly what I want and I'm sure of things, and he wanted to be more open to whatever might happen. As soon as we broke up, I actually felt a much stronger sense of security about a lot of things. Not having kids was the main thing. Another thing was that I never want to move far away from home. Again, I wanted to be sure of this before, but being with him was holding me back and making me feel like I had to be open to other possibilities someday, and as soon as we broke up, it was completely under my control again. Even smaller things, like knowing that I never want to go camping - I mean, there's no real reason I have to decide something like that right now, but it's under my control to decide it now. I have the power to say that I never want to do something again in my whole life and actually follow through with it if I want to.
And I know I was held back a lot by college, but he made it worse. He made that being-held-back process go on longer. When I decided to write the validation book just four months after the breakup (which is right after), the idea hit me, and I just sat there thinking, why on earth didn't I think of this before? It was just so blatantly obvious to me that this was what I should doing, I didn't know why it had taken me so long to think of it. And I really believe it's because I was being held back, I believe that as much I talked about stuff on my blog and Facebook, I really was being held back from being my real self the whole time I was in the relationship. And it didn't hit me until we had broken up.
It's been three years, and I still can't get over just how bright and colorful everything is around me.
I've decided that I want to be myself all the time, including at work, and including with people I'm "supposed" to make a good impression on such as a partner's family and friends. I know lots of resources will say that that's a bad idea, that it's just part of life that you don't get to really be yourself at work, but that is not acceptable to me. It's my life, I'm not a chameleon, and I plan to be myself all the time.
I thought about this last year, when I wrote my New Year's resolution for 2016, and it's come up again this year as I'm working on my Never Growing Up post. For me, when I'm in situations like work where I don't feel like I can share everything that I'd like to share, I want to get comfortable just saying straight out, "I don't know if I can share that."
It's not that people ask me really private questions or anything. For the most part, I like to have intimate conversations with people and I want to give honest answers to questions that most people ask. However, it often happens that when someone asks a question that seems casual, that they clearly don't intend to be intimate, my honest answer to the question is something that they might judge me for. It's especially something that I get concerned about at work. I used to handle these situations by telling small lies. For example, if I wasn't sure I should tell someone what my New Year's resolution was, I would say that I hadn't made one. If I wasn't sure I should tell someone what my party theme was, I would say that it didn't have a theme. If I wasn't sure I should tell someone why I wasn't feeling well, I would say that I was just tired. Little things like that. But what I've decided now is that when I'm questioning whether it's okay to share the truth, I'm just going to be honest about that. But I'm not going just to say, "That's private," which would put the topic completely off-limits. I'm going to say that I'm not sure if I should share it. I'm going to say this with hesitation, let the other person know that I'm questioning whether it's work-appropriate or whether it's something that they might judge, and let them either drop the subject or tell me that it is okay to share with them. And if something is deeply wrong and it's not something I can talk about fully at work, I am not going to lie and say that I'm just tired or that nothing is wrong. I'm going to say something along the lines of, "Yeah, I'm not feeling well," or "There's a lot going on," or, "Something bad did happen, but it's not something I can talk about right now." All of those responses make me feel soooooooo much better inside than if I lied and said I'm just tired. So that's what I'm going to do from now on. The only exception is if I really, truly want to keep something private from someone, in which case I might lie to protect my privacy, but if it's a case where I would like to share but I'm worried about how they'll react or whether it's okay to share in terms of work-appropriateness, I'm going to use one of the responses I gave above.
I'm going to start doing the same thing with anything that I don't want to be judged about. If someone asks me a question about, for instance, how much money I spent on something, I'm just going to say, "I don't want to share that because I don't want to be judged about it," rather than pretending that I don't remember.
I also want to get firmer about not having conversations that I don't want to have. Like, sometimes I feel okay discussing experiences like college and the breakup, but other times, if I don't know a person very well, I worry about their reaction making me feel worse. If I think that's the case and I don't want to take the risk, I want to be comfortable saying, "I don't want to get into that right now because it's going to make me too upset." And I'm going to stick to that. When I was a senior in college, I had tons of first-years demanding information out of me about why I hated the school when I told them that it would make me severely depressed to discuss it with them, but they kept pushing me because their knowledge was more important to them than my mental health. Going forward, I am not bending once I've said that I won't discuss something.
For the most part, I do want to share most stuff, I just want to let people know when I'm not sure if it's okay to share or when I'm choosing not to share because I don't want to be judged. I don't want to lie about stuff anymore.
I've mentioned before that I never ever want to be part of an organization like my college where everyone is happy and positive all the time, that I need to hear people expressing negative opinions and complaining about their troubles at least sometimes in order to feel safe in any environment. I recently discovered another green flag to look for in any situation.
I've described my college experience as a bad relationship, and I've compared it to a bad relationship in a variety of ways. But there is one thing about it that I didn't think of until just now. People always say that to have a healthy relationship with someone, you and the other person should both have a life outside of the relationship. You should both have things that you do and care about that aren't about the other person. I know I've said before that I don't want this, but in the case of college, this was actually a huge problem with my relationship to the school. In the case of college, I never wanted to be totally obsessed with the school and have my entire life be wrapped around it. I had a rich and fulfilling life that existed before I ever went to college, and I intended for it to stay that way. And yet, that was not the expectation. My college was designed for everyone's life to be entirely wrapped around the college. Even things that people did outside of school grounds, such as going abroad and doing summer internships, were part of college-sponsored programs and the students were getting college credit for those things. No one ever talked about or seemed to care about anything that was not in some way related to the college. Whenever I told anyone that I was writing a book, the conversation was basically:
Student: "Are you getting school credit for that?"
Student: "Could you get school credit for it?"
Me: "I don't care about that."
Student: [Left confused and speechless]
Out of all the students I talked to, I only ever met two other students who, like myself, had any non-college-related goals that they cared about. (One of those people was Eli, and they are the only person from college that I've stayed friends with. Coincidence? I think not!)
What I recently discovered is that, while hearing people complain openly about things is extremely important to me before entering a new group, hearing people talk about their lives outside of the group is equally important. Before joining a workplace or organization of any kind, I need to hear people in that organization talking about things that are completely unrelated to the organization. I want to hear about their personal lives and what they're doing over the weekend and where they went out last night. I want to hear people talking about the latest books and movies and the new coffee shop that opened down the street. It doesn't need to be super personal - I know some people prefer to keep their lives private, but I just need to get the overwhelming sense that most people in the organization have lives that they care about outside of the organization, that most people do not have their entire lives wrapped around the group. And if I hear that people have serious goals and aspirations that are completely unrelated to the group, that's even better.
Going forward, I'm always going to be aware of the level of investment that everyone has in a group before I join.
I was reviewing my unschooling post from two years ago and I have made SO MUCH progress in becoming a radical unschooler! I'm not quite where I want to be yet but I've made so much progress since then, which goes to show that the first step in any transformation is to actually define what you want to be.
I'm currently working on a super long post about what never growing up means to me, and I'm hoping it will have this same effect, that I'll start making that kind of progress by knowing where I want to be. Posting my priority list and the Conditions of my Central Focus list on my blog and on my apartment walls has made me feel so much better, so much more like, "Yo! This is me, you don't like it you can leave!" I love that feeling. I can't wait to get this finished because it's gonna be another major addition to my mission-statement posts!!!!
Which reminds me that I should post some pics here of my new apartment decorations!
Also, I'm considering doing another personality test assessment about consent vs. non-consent and then calculating a likeness score. I'll have to see how that would work. More to come!
Also, recording my goals for each month has been amazing! I feel sooooo good entering each month with a long list of awesome stuff I wanna do. I've already checked off 4 things that I wanted to do in April (I started "April" a few days ago, even though it was technically March) and there is a lot more to come!