Sunday, July 17, 2011

On Being a Grown-Up

I remember being around sixteen years old, thinking that the next ten years or so would almost completely determine the person I would become, feeling nearly overwhelmed by the Big Decisions I would need to make.  I knew I'd have to choose a college, then choose a major, then choose a career.  I knew I'd probably choose the person with whom I'd be spending the rest of my life, choosing a city in which to live, and choosing whether and when to have children.  Then, I thought, all the Big Decisions would be made, and - voila! - I'd be a grown-up, aka A Person Who Has Made All the Big Decisions.

I've made all those decisions now (and am steadfastly happy with the choices I made) but it turns out, at thirty-three, there are still decisions - some big, some small - and daily I wish that I had become the grown-up who knew how to make them.  I have no problem doing the hard thing when I know that it is right, but I do have a problem when it isn't clear what the right thing is.  I've always known that one of my strengths and weaknesses is that I can argue both sides of an issue, which makes it hard to choose one path and stick to it confidently.  The current crop of Life Your Best Life media (Oprah, Life Lists, a plethora of inspirational websites and magazines) inspires me to, well, craft a life that lives up to its potential, to abhor complacency, to figure out what the problem is and find a way to solve it, to innovate, to raise the bar.  Trouble is, it's hard for me to know when I'm taking that too far.  Shouldn't I at some point just be grateful for the life as it is, or should I constantly be using my energy to improve it?  I CAN ARGUE BOTH SIDES.

We were at the beach today, which is really the only place to be when the dashboard weather looks like so:

and I was having a version of this conversation with a smart friend, who agreed that there is a fine line between wanting your life to be as ideal as possible and being the kind of person who always wants more, more, more.  Then, on the way home in the car - after hours of swimming and beach baseball and juice boxes and Doritos and Pronto Pups and ice cream and just one more Pronto Pup - Annie was complaining about the heat.  The air conditioning was going full blast, though it was taking a little while to cool the car down, and she couldn't stop talking about it.  It was so hot!  It was so uncomfortable!  It was so hot that it required a low-grade whine to emanate from the backseat and mingle with the noise of The Princess and the Frog.  At which point I heard my own voice share this bit of wisdom:

"You have a great, lucky life and you just had a super-fun day.  Now stop finding the one small thing that nobody can help, and just be happy."

Even as it was coming out of my mouth, I knew it was advice I needed to hear myself.  We came home, showered, put exhausted children to bed, and sat on the couch drinking a glass of red wine and talking about the never-ending decisions that are part and parcel of life as a grown-up, and I felt more sure that, no matter what we decide to do about this or that, I will be happy, because life is great and we just had a super-fun day.

"This is the thing:  when you start to hit twenty-eight or thirty, everything starts to divide, and you can see very clearly two kinds of people:  one one side, people who have used their twenties to learn and grow, to find God and themselves and their deep dreams, people who know what works and what doesn't, who have pushed through to become real live adults.
And then there's the other kind, who are hanging on to college, or to high school even, with all their might.  They've stayed in jobs they hate because they're too scared to get another one.  They've stayed with men or women who are good but not great because they don't want to be lonely.  They mean to find a church, they mean to develop honest, intimate friendships, they mean to stop drinking like life is one big frat party.  But they don't do those things, so they live in kind of an extended adolescence, no closer to adulthood than they were when they graduated college.
Don't be like that.  Don't get stuck.  Move, travel, take a class, take a risk.  Walk away, try something new.  There is a season for wildness and a season for settledness, and this is neither.  This season is about becoming.  Don't lose yourself at happy hour, but don't lose yourself on the corporate latter either.
Stop every once in a while to go out to coffee or climb in bed with your journal.  Ask yourself some good questions like, Am I proud of the life I'm living?  What have I tried this month?  What have I learned about God this year?  What parts of my childhood faith am I leaving behind, and what parts am I choosing to keep with me for this leg of the journey?  Do the people I'm spending time with give me life, or make me feel small?  Is there any brokenness in my life that's keeping me from moving forward? . . .
Now is your time.  Become, believe, try.  Walk closely with people you love, and with other people who believe that God is very good and life is a grand adventure.  Don't spend time with people who make you feel like less than you are.  Don't get stuck in the past, and don't try to fast-forward yourself into a future you haven't yet earned.  Give today all the love and intensity and courage you can, and keep traveling honestly along life's path."
-Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet

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