Growing up doesn’t mean you have to leave parts of yourself that you love behind. You just find new ways to use them.
Years ago, I lived in Rome for a summer. I spent one afternoon wandering around its winding cobblestone streets, mindlessly admiring the contrast between ancient and modern, when it occurred to me that Rome was an adolescent. It was growing up. And I couldn’t help but relate.
You’ve got global corporations propped next to 2,000-year-old structures. Street market vendors next to fancy hotels. Fast-food, fast-paced, and businessmen, along with family dinners and afternoon naps.
Always yearning for its over-glorified stories of the past—its youth—but slowly embracing the modernity it enters as a “first-world country.” It always seems to me that Rome is never sure how much it wants to hold on to its past and how much it wants to embrace its future.
It’s a city trapped in eternal adolescence.
I was suddenly flooded with these memories this weekend. I was back at my parents’ house to celebrate the first Massachusetts public appearance of my niece. (I know, what a celebrity.) At just 2 ½ months old, she flew up from South Carolina, with my sister and brother-in-law, to celebrate the holidays and meet friends and family.
And my house was filled with people I hadn’t seen in years. People of all ages. Some newly parents. Some newly married. Some newly moved. Some newly employed. I heard about new puppies dressed up like babies. I heard about new grandmothers spoiling their little devils. I heard about new adventures and old jobs. I heard about painful loss and heartbreak. I heard about newfound joy and excitement.
In every story I heard all day, people had gained or lost something. They were stepping into a new role. And they weren’t sure how much of the past to take with into the future. They were adolescents. Ever adolescents. Because we all are.
From memory, the biggest struggle in adolescence was, “Who am I going to be?” But I don’t think that’s a question that ever goes away. I don’t think it’s one we ever stop asking.
We’re always growing, always evolving, always becoming something new. We’re a new employee or new boyfriend. We’re now a wife or a mother. We become a new homeowner. Maybe a native in a foreign land. We become bosses, widows, lovers. The world is always asking us to change.
But we’re still who we are. We’re still children and brothers or sisters. We’re still friends and significant others. We’re still always ourselves.
And we need to figure out how much we’re going to bring who we were into who we’re going to be. That’s really the question. That’s the part we need to negotiate over time. That’s how we end up with old habits mixed with new clothes. Old relationships and new jobs. Building a computer store next to the Colosseum.
How do you balance being a mother and a grandmother? Does it change your role at all? How do you balance being a father and a husband? Can you really work as much with a new family? And is it too late to go back to school?
How do the holidays change when you’ve suffered devastating loss and embraced new life? How do you accept that your children are growing up and moving on? How much do you hold on to the way things were? How much do you start to create a new future?
As I walked through the party, listening to people yearn for their glory days of youth and timidly embrace their current situation, I couldn’t help but compare us all to Rome. To that mishmash of past and future. To those glorified stories that may or may not have happened. But it doesn’t even matter. They become our past, our myths, our laughs and smiles. And to the uncertain future that awaits us all. That we don’t really have control of, but that’s coming anyway.
I think the hardest thing in life is to grow up. To grow out of what once was. Something you were so used to. Some way you knew yourself. Someone you loved. To let go. To embrace something new.
But I don’t think that getting older means you have to totally lose what you were. It might mean that you have it forever. That you carry it inside of you every day. That you’ve learned the lessons and integrated it. And that you honor it when you go out and bravely show yourself to the world.
Change is hard. Growing up is harder. And we’ve all gone through the awkward teenage years. It’s uncomfortable. It’s painful. It just doesn’t fit right.
Until it does. Until you settle into your new role. Until you find yourself again. Stronger, wiser, more of yourself than ever before.
And that’s when you know you’re growing up.
Originally posted at bostonwellnesscoach.com.
Photo: Moyan Brenn/Flickr
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