This weekend I spent some time around people I haven’t seen in years. I’ve known many of them since they were teenagers and it made me think about growing up and how it’s done.
When you’re a kid you look up at adults and you assume that they actually know what they’re doing. You assume that they have everything easy and they can do what they want and that they’re free. Growing up is slowly realising that you were mostly wrong. Adults are mostly making it up as they go along. Adults are weighed down with responsibilities and commitments. Adults do have the freedom to choose to do what they want but they mostly have enough sense not to use it to do all the stuff they wanted to when they were kids.
Spending time with people that I’ve known for so long, seeing the ways in which they’ve changed, and the ways in which they haven’t, set me to thinking about how some people grow up and how some people don’t. I’m probably going to come back to this subject again but I think I’ve come up with a way to define the process of becoming an adult.
Growing up is an ongoing process of learning the correct amount of fucks to give and then putting that knowledge into action.*
The correct amount of fucks is almost never zero. People who give zero fucks can be intoxicating to be around. For a while. They start out entertaining and exhilarating, like a fairground ride, but there’s a reason that fairground rides are short. Exhilaration soon turns to exhaustion. People who give too few fucks are prone to dickish behaviour. They leave things undone. They’re careless with the feelings of others.
People who give too many fucks make themselves miserable. That misery inevitably spreads to everyone around them. They often fall victim to procrastination and indecision because they care too and everything seems too risky. They’re too raw, too easily hurt, too fragile.
It’s hard to put your finger on the correct amount of fucks. That’s why growing up is a lifelong process. It’s learning to care what your loved ones think of you but not to tie your sense of self worth to it. It’s understanding the difference between a valid criticism and a personal attack. It’s knowing how to cut toxic people out of your life but still being able to reach out to help a friend who is in a bad place or going through a bad time. It’s giving of yourself when people you care about need you but still being able to hold onto what you need for yourself. Most of all it’s about forgiving yourself when you inevitably fuck all of the above up.
I can’t tell you how to do any of this. I’m still working on it myself. But maybe I’ve helped define the problem a tiny bit.
*I’m defining ‘fucks’ here as both caring about stuff and being patient with people about that stuff.