Have you noticed that there aren’t that many grown-ups in the world?
I mean, there are plenty of human beings walking around in grown-up bodies of various shapes, sizes and hues, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about people who have grown up.
In my entire life, I don’t think I’ve encountered many people that I knew were grown-ups. I seemed, even as a young child, to have this uncanny and uncomfortable knack of being able to spot the impostors a mile away. I could always see the child underneath, struggling hard to act like a grown up, while betraying all the giveaway signs that they were making it up as they went along, just like everyone else.
Perhaps that’s what we’re all doing, much of the time, as we negotiate this adventure we call “life.” But some of us do reach a different place, and we know when we’re in the presence of someone who’s done that because we feel different around them: we feel safe and accepted.
We feel understood.
This sense of safety and acceptance is a beautiful thing, because in the presence of such a soul, I believe we can see the Universe looking back at us.
I count myself extremely fortunate now to know quite a number of friends I would call grown-ups, and those people have certain qualities in common.
I’ve listed them below, in no particular order—let me know what you think.
1. A real grown-up up knows where they begin and end.
It takes us a while to know this. When we start out, fear makes us want everything to be in our control. And we can get really put out when things don’t go our way. We also think that whatever we’re feeling or thinking is what everyone else is thinking and feeling too. We find it hard to grasp that other people’s experience of the world may be different to our own.
But a real grown-up understands how we are all connected despite our differences.
2. A real grown-up understands what love is about.
Starting out, we tend to get confused between love, which allows the other to be free to be themselves; need, which makes us believe that we must have the other in order to feel complete; possession, which makes us believe that if the other person really loves us they will change to be who we want them to be; and codependency, which makes us think that two people become the same once they get together.
As we grow up, we align ourselves more with a state of universal love and ease.
3. A real grown-up knows how to own up to their responsibilities and leave the rest.
I’m talking responsibility here. Taking responsibility for what’s ours, and being clear that it’s for others to take responsibility for what’s theirs. We tend to be confused over this at first, expecting others to rescue us, or feeling that we must rescue everyone else. We mix up responsibility to others and responsibility for others. A real grown-up has usually learned this the hard way, but can now very kindly but firmly see the issues clearly and maintain appropriate boundaries.
With this comes an appreciation that we can’t change another or expect another to change for us, and that all we can change is ourselves.
4. A real grown-up is emotionally stable and open to vulnerability.
Fear and panic are the hallmarks we display before we have learned that, no matter what, we always survive whatever life throws at us. Once we know this, we’re steadier, with a quiet confidence that’s born out of self-trust.
Stable doesn’t mean not feeling anything—it means not being afraid to feel, knowing that feelings are part of what it is to be fully human, and that there’s nothing to hide or lose once we get here. It’s all good.
5. A real grown-up knows what their life is about and owns it.
They have processed and integrated their life experiences sufficiently. They know themselves well, and have learned to embrace all they are with acceptance and ongoing curiosity. If we’re always running from our own shadow we can’t be truly grown up; we’re in denial and fearful of who we are.
A real grown-up can see when they’re projecting their own experiences onto another and take those projections back. An observer “self” is in place that is capable of witnessing what’s going on without being overwhelmed by it.
6. A real grown-up can embrace what comes and also let go.
It’s a strange one, letting go. A paradox. I’ve observed that the more integrated a person becomes, joined up if you like, the more easily they can let go and move on. There’s less emotional baggage, less unresolved experience, less unhealed pain. With this comes a degree of empathy and understanding that heals and soothes and refreshes.
7. A real grown-up is reflective, thoughtful and demonstrates complex thinking.
They can handle complex and flexible thinking, instead of rigid, black and white thinking. They can manage difference and otherness without feeling threatened by it or losing themselves in the process. Reactions become measured, fair, less influenced by raw emotion. Feelings inform thinking, rather than replacing or overriding thinking.
8. A real grown-up is able to trust life, embrace its lessons, and is always actively evolving
There comes a point when we have a sense of knowing how life goes. Not what’s going to happen, but how it goes when it does happen—this means a sense of “I remember this” or “Oh, here I go again, I know how to do it this time.” Not that all wisdom is ours; more that we understand that wisdom will come whatever we experience, because it always does. They can therefore be playful and joyful because there’s nothing to fear and so much to enjoy and look forward to.
9. A real grown-up has a generosity of thinking that embraces a bigger picture
Such people have a spiritual awareness that we experience in their presence as stillness and wisdom. A deep knowing that there is something more, something beyond. A philosophy of life that is softer, more mellow. They have survived losses, endings, change, new beginnings, and have integrated these into a deep acceptance of, and contentment with, what is. A yearning for something “else” has been replaced by an appreciation of what it is to simply be alive and part of something greater.
10. A real grown-up has done the work they came here to do.
These are the people we feel utterly safe around. We want to sit at their feet and listen. They are unshakable and comfortable in their own skin, with a humility born of understanding what it is to be fully human, alongside an appreciation of the divinity inside each and every one of us. Their inner beauty shines through, and we see ourselves reflected there.
So there it is, a list in progress, just as we’re all work in progress.
It’s not in any way meant to be prescriptive, simply my own observations. And doesn’t it show, if nothing else, just how amazing we all are, and how brave, to embark on this journey in the first place: that of becoming a grown-up!
Author: Janny Juddly
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Jenny Downing at Flickr