The brain does not reach full maturity until our middle twenties or thirties.
Adolescence isn’t finished just because the word teen no longer appear in our age. It usually take two or three decades of life before we can genuinely build an adult understanding of the world.
And so, if not a number, then what are the defining characteristics of adulthood? How do we know that we’re actually growing up?
Here are some of the signifiers from my own life. See if they resonate with you.
First, accepting ourselves.
Maturity means acknowledging our talents and gifts, making peace with our oddities and confronting the reality of our weaknesses. We get crystal clear on our relationship to personal forces like motivation, expectation and fulfillment. We give thanks for the lessons our limitations teach us.
Second on the grown up list, tracking our needs and regulating our bodies.
Noticing how we feel without judging, describing our emotional experience accurately, and communicating with ourselves and others about what’s important to us. And if those needs can’t be met, we take control and find alternative means. Or we surrender and move on.
Third, responding to reality in an appropriate manner.
Also known as response flexibility, maturity means expanding the gap between impulse and reaction. We pause before we act. If we experience a strong emotional stimulus, instead of acting immediately and irrationally as a child might, we take a breath for a split second, know that we have a choice, and react more intentionally.
Four, understanding consequences of our actions is critical to being an adult.
We remember that we live in a world with other people, we’re not the center of the universe, and for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s the humility of acting in ways that are respectful to our relationships.
Another signifier of maturing is trusting the process.
Letting go of expectations. Not trying to frantically control what isn’t ours to control. Reducing the amount of time spent at the mercy of our addictions or compulsions. Maintaining a good sense of humor in response to the absurdity of the human experience.
And accepting that nature has its own tempo and flow of which we are only a small part.
That one is the hardest in my own experience, but also the most rewarding.
Finally, growing up means processing rejection and failure in a healthy way.
Understanding that things aren’t personal, permanent and pervasive. And speaking to ourselves along the way with compassionate, rational language that supports our intentions. Sometimes you just gotta say, fuck em, their loss.
Are you willing to do all of that work necessary to grow up?
It’s definitely not easy. Takes blood, sweat and years.
For some of us, it may take our whole lives.
But all of us, as we stand at the threshold of a new maturity, are invited to ripen into more mature ways of relating to self, other and the world.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
When did your adolescence end?