What Will I Be When I Grow Up?

Today’s guest post comes from Steve Grooms.

When I was a kid I felt a breezy, uninformed optimism about the process of growing up. I assumed it would flow naturally, evenly, always moving toward a higher state of consciousness. I assumed that I would experience some tricky teen years and maybe endure challenges in my 20s. But I took it for granted that I’d be all grown up by 30 or (worst case scenario) 35. Then I’d have four or five decades to enjoy being a grownup before the little candle of my soul was snuffed out.

That optimism began to wear thin when I hit my 30s and still felt like a work in progress. I feared there was something wrong with me in my 40s because I still pursued maturity like a greyhound chasing a tin bunny, never catching it . . . hell, never getting near it!

Which one is the most mature?

Becoming a parent while I was still flagrantly immature was interesting. When you have a kid, you sometimes have to act like a grownup. I often felt like a fraud at such moments. I wanted to sneak out to the apron of the stage and confess to the audience, “I’m not really an adult, but I gotta play one from time to time.”

Somewhere along the line I sensed I wasn’t the only one still trying to grow up at 40, 50 or 60. One of my best friends is about twenty years older than I, and she routinely experiences breakthroughs in personal growth as she pushes 90. I now understand that most people continue to grow and mature as long as they breathe air. Some of that feels good and some of it stinks, but it seems to be one of the unavoidable realities of life.

I might be more aware of this than most folks, for my life blew up in my face when I was 57, and I suddenly didn’t have any idea of who I was or what I would do when I grew up. I “got” to experience my teen years all over when I was actually in my AARP years, with all the terrors and bizarre rewards of dating. I was plunged into a crash course in self-discovery. It has been fascinating and often harrowing.

Because of this blog piece, I’ve been contemplating changes that I’ve made lately. Without going into tedious detail, I believe I’m much more humble. I’ve always had strong opinions and no shortage of them. Most of my life I was “humble” in the sense of not arrogantly spouting off with my excellent opinions. I now understand that my opinions are often based on crummy data, lazy analysis and wishful thinking. Where I used to act humble, I now am humble because I know many of my pet convictions are just crap. I am doing a better job of keeping quiet when I see people doing dumb things. If they want my wisdom, they can always ask for it. I listen better now.

I continue to be curious about what I will be like when I grow up . . . if I ever do, which seems mighty unlikely after all these years!

What does it mean to be ‘grown up’, and how can you tell when you get there?

67 thoughts on “What Will I Be When I Grow Up?”

  1. Good morning. Do I have to grow up? When I was a kid I sometimes thought I didn’t want to grow up because adults were not what they should be and had lost something important that was only found in kids. Maybe I was right about that. I do try to be a mature responsible person. Have I succeeded? Probably not. I am cleaning up my house to get ready to move and I keep running into the remains all the various messes I have created over the years including recent ones. It seems there is a kid in me that will not let me completely grow up and an adult in me that wishes I would grow up.


      1. Sign me up for the island part with self- sustaining, non corporate lifestyle.

        Oh, yeah. It was an illusion, a movie. Not real. Gotta remember that.


  2. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    Adulthood is a weird experience that just may kill me. In fact I am sure it will. As a child I thought adulthood would be cool because the adults got to do whatever they wanted to. Or so it seemed…at age 59 it appears different. As a child the responsibility part was invisible to me. I see it now!

    But would I return to childhood, especially the teen years? I think not.


    1. I used to long for adulthood because being a teenager seemed so much about not knowing what to do in all kinds of situations. I wanted to be grown up enough that I would know what to do in difficult situations . . . like someone accuses me of having bad ethics, or someone whose friendship I cherished grows cool, or someone I care about seems to need a great deal of help but is too proud to accept it. I keep finding, in what I thought would be my adult years, that I am madly improvising, not really knowing what to do.


  3. Trying to be an adult reminds me of the song:

    It was a last minute invitation, I did not have a thing to wear
    I ran into the store, I said I need something black
    Something formal, other than that I don’t care

    I made it to the theatre as the lights dimmed
    The first act was brilliantly fun
    When I caught my reflction during intermission
    I thought What have I done

    What was I thinking? What was I blind
    When I bought this outfit I must have been out of my mind?
    What was I thinking? Look at this dress
    I’m taking up drinking, my life is a mess

    My good friend said “I know you’re gonna love him.
    I’ve known him for a long long time.
    And if I were not happily married myself
    In a heartbeat, I would try to make him mine.
    So I figured, I’ll take my chances
    I mean really what harm could it do
    Makes you wonder ’bout your good friends and their motivations
    When something like this happens to you”

    What was she thinking? Who is this guy
    Maybe I will choke on this porkchop and conveniently die
    What was she thinking? Quick sharpen this knife
    I’m thinking of drinking and I’m thinking of eding my life

    Ache tu livre, aah what a dinner
    Henery Bonjour, Kae lacksiman

    Oh it was late, I had insomnia
    The TV stair stepper started to look good
    I thought to myself shuld I buy it
    Then I heard Bruce Jennings voice say “yes you should”
    And that’s that master, and that bald headed man spray
    And that victoria jackson makeup kit
    Now I can barely get around my apartment
    It’s so full of this stupid stuff

    What was I thinking? Look at this junk
    I can’t blame this on drinking
    I have never, hardly, right now I’m not drunk
    What was I thinking?


  4. Excellent topic, Steve. I’m sure we’ll get some interesting perspectives on this today.

    I think I was mature beyond my years, even as a child, and I couldn’t wait to escape the nightmare that my childhood was. There were too many pitfalls and dangers over which I had no control, and I equated adulthood with the ability to create for myself, a place where I felt safe and secure. Even so, I have always thought of my life as a journey with no predetermined destination. That safe and secure place I’ve sought is not so much a physical reality in the form of a house or dwelling, but rather a combination of many things. Over the years, that place has evolved as I have reassessed what I need in order to be reasonably content. At one point in my career, it had to do with money, at another, it was more important to do “meaningful” work. I’ve made some conscious choices in my life, some out of necessity, that were painful. Looking back, those choices have to a large extent defined who I am today. I’m clearly grown up, and arguably past my prime both physically and mentally, but I feel certain that the best is yet to come. I relish that I’m free to pursue whatever interests me without feeling any obligations whatsoever to justify it to anyone. Now, if I can only muster enough energy to get back in the swing of things, watch out, there’s no telling where this journey may yet take me.


  5. I must be grown up. I have to go to Bismarck this morning to see the periodontist! My periodontist’s name is Dr. Dohm. I hope is pronounced Dome, not Doom. The papers and media today are splashed with the story of a young man from our town who was booted from his college football team for being observed kissing his boyfriend ( a 65 year old man). I am certain this isn’t what his parents thought would happen when he was all grown up. What a shlomozzal! .


    1. i have a lawyer for him to talk to about the wad of money he has at his beckon call after that college decision.i think if it was an older man kissing a younger woman he would get a thumbs up. turnabout is not fair pay in the pc world of 2012


  6. According to my very wise father, you don’t have to be a responsible adult, you just have to pay the bills on time. (He never “grew up” either…a good role model in balancing the necessities of being an adult while maintaining a childlike wonder and curiosity with his world.)


    1. It seems fun to frame this discussion in terms of “maturity” and “immaturity,” but that isn’t quite what I had in mind. I’ve long assumed that my basic character would be set by the time I reached middle age. It just doesn’t seem so now. I keep looking back on moments not that long ago, thinking, “Sheesh! I was so young and foolish then!” My friend who is almost 90 just figured out this year the basic pattern of her life. Her dad died when she was a teenager, and she has tried to replace him with “God” ever since. That understanding came to her when she was 89.


  7. I had a rough time when I was 29… just not feeling at ease in my skin and not making the best choices. Ended up in counseling over it. During my therapy we discovered that I was not looking forward to my 30th birthday; I had many almost unconscious expectations about how I should be when I was 30. For example, I thought I should cut my hair and not keep it long anymore. I thought I would have to give up bicycling to work. In print like this these ideas look silly, but at the time it seemed to me that life would be over for me at 30. One afternoon my therapist said “You know, Sherrilee, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book with rules for hitting 30.” That realization, that I didn’t have to conform to any rules at any age was a turning point for me. Does that mean I’ve never grown up????


    1. I don’t think so, vs, you seem to be on a good track. 29 was tough for me too. My first marriage was coming apart at the seems, and I was so distraught that I had given wasband the “best years of my life.” Clearly, I didn’t hold high expectations for the rest of my life! I had failed as a wife, and wasn’t even a mother! It took me several years to come to terms with the fact that my life wasn’t over, and that I’d have to pick myself up and go on. When I married current husband at age 36, my mother helpfully advised me to be good to him; not many men will marry a woman your age, she said.


  8. Morning-
    I still feel like the little kid. Like I shouldn’t be sitting at the Grown Up table. But there I am so I better act like I have a clue.
    I remember a few times when the kids were younger and Kelly and I almost had to argue over who was going to be the ‘Responsible Adult’ and stay home while the other went out to play.
    Kelly still says she isnt’ sure what she’s going to be when she grows up.
    And that’s OK. You have to grow up, you don’t have to grow old.


  9. Here’s another example of how confusing this has all been. When I was processing all the sudden changes forced on me at 57, I began writing a book about my parents. After I’d worked on it for a year or two I suddenly saw that my dad was a “storyteller.” And I suddenly began to understand how that is a distinctive way of approaching the world. I was amazed that I hadn’t understood that about him earlier. About then it suddenly came through to me that I was a storyteller, too.

    It was both stunning and humbling to make such a basic discovery about myself at that age. And it took me years to see how being a storyteller is both a good thing and sometimes an undesirable thing. Above all, it felt queer to have lived so long without tumbling to that most basic of perceptions about my own identity and character.


  10. Steve , you got my brain working this morning. I will be driving a major portion of the day so I may have to hit the send button in the later hours from my final destination.
    Growing up is a phenomenon that we all share and I hope when I get there someone will point it out to me. George Bernard Shaw broke his leg falling out of an apple tree at age 90 and I want to be in that kind of state when I get to that point myself.

    When I was a kid I was always wanting to hang out with the older kids and feel older and more mature. I was always hanging with guys 2 or 3 years older than me and was the understudy for the group. It never occurred to me to do the childish things my own age group was participating in. I did however take delight in the occasions when my older friends did childish things. That made it all right. As I burned through my high school buddies, first my 12th grade buddies graduated when I was in 9th or 10th grade then the next crop the following year and by the time I was a senior I was an experienced world traveler who need to spread his wings and have a place of his own so I moved with my buddies to a formerly wonderful house on Portland and lake and was immersed in the city life while commuting to Bloomington for school every day. I was a pretty happy camper. I ended up never moving back again. I was surprised at how easy it was to be grown up, just proclaim yourself so and it is so. Then the details started popping up. My engine blew on the old vw bus and I needed some help form mom and dad on my summer vacation out on the Canada Washington border. Then again a week later in van nuys California ( vw of Bellingham Washington screwed up but it still cost me through the nose) my parents were always there for me. Then into business with my dad and a chance to make my way in a field I loved and to do it as fast and completely as I wanted. I didn’t enjoy school because of the teachers who wanted to hammer you for not doing it by the numbers, I loved the teachers who got it and helped me to get through the system and out the other side to get on with my life. I never thought too much about growing up but I realized when I hit 30 that my imagined goal of having it made by age thirty after entering the adult world at the early age of 18, it didn’t seem early then, was simply not to be. I was always amazed by the 20 somethings and 30 somethings who got it and were able to propel themselves through the process and lead their chosen fields as they blazed a path gfor glory on their pursuit of nirvana, me I kinda learned what I liked, went that direction instead of the other, tried to crank up the discipline a bit an be a good human being, making it through the maze along the way. I was usually pretty good at playing the game and found that not everyone appreciated my way of doing it but there were always enough people who bought into my schtick so I could continue following my chosen path.

    Today I must be all grown up, my dad has seen me through all he can, my mom while super supportive in a soulful sense and an inspiration to me in the art of making the world a better place , is more likely to need a hand that to be called on to lend one. My kids laugh at the notion that other kids dads are all so straight and dadlike and they get me. I am an alternative of a grown up. The realization that life is a growing process until the growth stops. Grass goes dormant for the winter and comes back to life after the change of the seasons comes around. I feel like the change of the seasons is more apropos than having achieved the status of “grown up”. I keep learning and keep stubbing my toe from walking too fast in the process (reminds me there is a guest blog topic in there) but I will hopefully continue the human condition and the wonderful endless combination of variables that are available at every given moment. If you could do ground hog hag day and have do overs would you? I think growing up is the ability to accept who you are and try to do the best you can with what you have. I am too easy on myself and too hard on my kids and too scattered to get to the point I am striving for and too intent on ding it my way to sell out, where I will be when I am the George Bernard Shaw wannabe at age 90 is the question I will be answering in the distant future that will be arriving here in about a week and a half and hopefully I will have the right vibe cooking and I will have a smile and a hunger and a desire to get to the next plateau like I do today and like I always have. Who could ask for anything more.


    1. As usual, tim, you take my breath away. You seem so comfortable going with the flow and embracing of the fact that you’re an “alternative” to a grown up, that it makes me smile. I know that the constant state of flux you describe would drive me crazy, but I really appreciate that there are people like you in the world.


  11. Love all these stories, baboons. Like others above, I’ve been an adult in some ways since I was a little kid, but I still find areas in my life when I know what I must do and I can’t get myself to do that. (Regular exercise comes to mind.) I think at this point the most “adult” thing I can do is not to get my undies in a bundle about it, not berate myself so much. Acceptance has become a hallmark of my version of adulthood.

    Scott Peck said (something like) neurosis is basically one of two things: you’re a person who doesn’t take enough responsibility for the things in your life, OR you’re a person who takes on too much responsibility – other people’s stuff. I think adulthood is when you find the right balance, another thing I’m constantly working on.

    Good topic, Steve – will think more on this.


        1. At this point it doesn’t even say “watch on Youtube” – no words at all. It’s just black background with red box and white arrow in center. All my boxes today are like that, though earlier they were as usual.


  12. “Most people don’t grow up. Most people age. They find parking spaces, honor their credit cards, get married, have children, and call that maturity. What that is, is aging.”
    – Maya Angelou


  13. “I don’t think I’d have been in such a hurry to reach adulthood if I’d known the whole thing was going to be ad-libbed.”
    – Bill Watterson


  14. A now-retired wise older therapist once said to me; “The goal in life is to perfect your personality disorder!”. Wise words meaning that polish up your flaws and quirks to work “for” you rather than “against” you. Due to a sad childhood in which I felt no safety or acceptance, I entered adult life with an inordinate need for attention and validation. This manifested in ways which usually backfired on me. It wasn’t until I turned 60 that the wounded little girl finally got her “day in the sun” when I discovered dancing. It’s funny how those primitive wounds reside at our very core, forever searching for healing and expression. For me, dancing like Tina Turner has been the most improbable route to healing that little girl. When I’m out there doing my thing, it’s not a 68-year old woman; it’s the sheer and unabashed joy of a three-year old’s energy spilling out. As such, I’ve had many people even baby-talk me, saying, “You’re so adorable” and such with their hands cupping my cheeks. I know that the spirit of that little girl is that which they’re responding to, not the grown-up woman. The joy I exude has me feeling like the “Maude” to dozens of “Harolds”.

    I feel as though I’m finally free to not worry about convention or accomplishing anything or being any more than I already am. I seem to have come into just the right balance between being a grown-up and a little kid. On Labor Day, I was dancing in the sun at Lord Fletcher’s – mostly by myself to a Motown band – and people began stuffing dollar bills into my halter top. If this depiction doesn’t provide a visual of a nearly-70 year old phenomenon, nothing else I can say will. The gratitude expressed to me every time I’m out is a bonus, but I get that the freedom to move to the music must be a universal need to dance and whether or not someone lets him/herself move out of self-consciousness, they appreciate being in the energy field of someone who does.


  15. In terms of maturation I have lived my life a bit backwards, like Arthur in “The Once and Future King.” My childhood made me sort of always mature in most respects. For one reason because like most children in the generations ahead of mine, I had to work as an adult from an early age. For a second reason because my father had his childhood completely taken from him, he could not understand why his sons should have any childhood. I do think that has made me a bit childish as an adult.
    I have also as an adult had to work at having a sense of play. Most of my students would be surprised to hear me say that because I worked very hard at bringing a sense of work and play into my classroom. I succeeded for sure at the work part and I do believe I succeeded at the play part as well.
    But, oh, how childish/selfish I sometimes find myself now. Somebody, well many people of note, have said we should be childlike and not childish. I who seldom got to be childlike find myself childish now, Somewhere in there is a lesson for those who study the human mind and soul.


      1. I have a couple of guest posts coming, written to kill time when stuck in places. But explaining how I made classroom playful would not be very playful.


  16. For some reason all these you tube boxes are just black background with red box and white arrow in center. Is that what everyone else is getting?


  17. As I was in my play therapy room picking up the toys, I wondered if my interest in play means that I haven’t grown up as much as I think I have. Play is a serious business for the children I see in that play therapy room, important work for each child who plays there.


    This is NOT a Dr. Larry bit.
    From: Just Eat Real Food
    ‎”It is now possible for plants to be engineered with genes taken from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans.

    Scientists have worked on some interesting combinations:
    Spider genes were inserted into goat DNA, in hopes that the goat milk would contain spider web protein for use in bulletproof vests.
    Cow genes turned pigskins into cowhides.
    Jellyfish genes lit up pigs’ noses in the dark.
    …Artic fish genes gave tomatoes and strawberries tolerance to frost.

    Field trials have included:
    Corn engineered with human genes (Dow)
    Sugarcane engineered with human genes (Hawaii Agriculture Research Center)
    Corn engineered with jellyfish genes (Stanford University)
    Tobacco engineered with lettuce genes (University of Hawaii)
    Rice engineered with human genes (Applied Phytologics)
    Corn engineered with hepatitis virus genes (Prodigene)
    Potatoes that glowed in the dark when they needed watering.
    Human genes were inserted into corn to produce spermicide.”



  19. Great and provocative post, Steve. I must note that I question whether anything you write could end up being “tedious detail”.

    Like some other Baboons, I often feel that I’m faking adulthood. I just look around and see other people that have it together better or who have dealt with things that I can’t imagine. I guess I’ve had my share of trials – father died young, mother with MS, son with Aspergers, two divorces. I think that being a grown up means dealing with things at least somewhat head-on whereas I have been more of a motionless rock in the stream, letting things flow over me. MAYBE it’s preferable to be a rock rather than a stick or leaf that is swept away but I think it’s more just my nature not to feel or stew or panic about what happens. Beating the stream metaphor to a pulp, I think it would be more adult to be a kayak or canoe that deliberately maneuvers through the rapids.


    1. Lisa, I’d be willing to bet on a rock outlasting any kayak or canoe any day. I think we tend to see other people as dealing better with problems than we do, while the fact is that we all do our level best to not show how hurt or vulnerable we are. The extent to which we feel and acknowledge our pain, I think, is the real indicator of how well we really cope.


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