I’m growing up a lot these days. It’s painful, weird and kind of beautiful.
I used to think growing up was just a matter of paying your bills on time and figuring out how to properly clean a bathroom. These days, that’s just the tip of it. Within learning how to cook and clean, I’m slowly learning that growing up is the realization that other people hang in the balance of your own life. Growing up is the process of taking the world’s spotlight off of you. It’s the process of seeing people. It’s putting your selfishness on the back-burner to make sure someone else feels like they can conquer something today.
I’m not implying that you are selfish. However, if you are anything like me then you want to be constantly improving. You want people to like you. You want to be seen as humble and good. Somewhere in the search to be seen in the right light we forget to place our best energy on the people around us. We sacrifice our energy to build shrines of imperfection for ourselves. We live in these little self-made sanctuaries where we could always get better, do more, care more, and live more. These buildings with the pews we build for ourselves are where we sit and kneel and stand and pray that we will get our way. We worship improvement, not God.
Instead of always polishing our hearts, we should learn to give them away. Instead of needing to be perfect before stepping outside, we should understand that this whole life is a process. You’re never going to be perfect. It is not a destination. Perfection is a paper town– it sits on a map but you can never actually get there. And it might actually be really sad if you somehow did become perfect—if you found that land and pitched a tent– because there’d be no more need to grow and change and learn the hard stuff.
I’m not an expert at this. I am nowhere near an example. But the more I am invested in the process, the more I am finding fulfillment in daily life. It’s easy to become deflated when we feel like our daily lives are supposed to deliver us into a constant state of fireworks and celebration. It’s dangerous to think our kale, and our planners, and our meetings should thrill us. We will always be let down if life is always about us. On the adverse— it’s really easy to log onto Facebook, notice that 7 people announced their engagement during the workday, and feel belittled and small for the things we don’t feel like we’ve accomplished. We swing back and forth on this pendulum. Back and forth between “I really should be heralded for my accomplishments” and “I don’t really like myself at all.”
If you spend your days looking at the highlight reel of other people, you will never see your life as anything more than ordinary and plain.
Life is not a constant state of fireworks though. Usually it’s the opposite. We wake up late. We sit on the horn when we shouldn’t. We stick closer to our phones than new people at dinner parties. We prove ourselves to be unruly, hangry, irritated and worrisome more often than not. Somehow— in a world that does not meet our expectations— we must learn to live and love and breathe and keep going. We must learn to train our hearts to engage in the process of “becoming” rather than fall in love with the idea of finished products.
I wrote last week about the friend of mine who is on mile 3. He is the one who wanted to give up on dating a girl because she kept breaking all the plans and making up excuses. The fact that he wanted to give up on the girl was perfectly fine. Every single one of us coached him into doing it the right way though: be honest. Be forward. Finish the story right.
When we don’t finish the story right, we walk around acting like we are entitled to making up the ending. That ending rarely is a shout for victory or a lesson learned. It’s usually a fearful little ending that results in us feeling small, battered, and wounded. We carry that ending into new relationships. We expect another person to scale the walls of that ending we wrote for ourselves— too high for another person to get over.
This weekend he ended it right. He asked the girl to be honest with him. In turn, she was honest with him. She told him she liked him, that he was a great guy, and that she just didn’t think she could invest what he wanted into the relationship.
“I’m so proud that you kept going,” I told him. “How do you feel?”
“I just asked myself, ‘did you do everything you could’ve done?’ and, perhaps for the first time in my life, I could honestly answer yes to that question.”
He hadn’t played the game the culture tries to make us play. He hadn’t copped out of the story too early. He hadn’t constructed a grey area for she and him to dance around inside of much longer than necessary.
He devoted himself to the process of dating her with the reality present that she might not want him just how he wanted her. He did it anyway. He showed up to live the harder and better story that comes when we realize other people need us to grow out of the games we used to like to play.
“And that’s how you grow up,” I said back to him.
That’s how we all grow up.