Growing Up - For Adults
(Approximately a 6 minute read)
Growing up for adults is choosing never to stop growing.
It's what you do if you decide that rather than live a life and think thoughts prescribed by the circumstances of your upbringing and by the prevailing cultural norms, you’re going to live a life designed by YOU.
(This post is fine to read on its own. But if you have time for a bit more reading, Thinking for Yourself is a good lead in to this one.)
Growing up, the first time around
Growing up, in my opinion, can happen twice in a lifetime. The first growing up takes about 20-ish years. The second one never ends.
We all fumble our way somehow through childhood and across the threshold of adolescence into adulthood. Some of us do it with relative grace; others come kicking and screaming – but we all arrive at some kind of "grown up".
This first time around of growing up is not something you have much control over.
As a child you had little or no choice about the influences that shaped the identity and world view—the “mental blueprint,” if you like—that you’ll carry with you into adulthood. As you enter adulthood, to a large degree you're a reflection of your upbringing and of the social and cultural norms you grew up with.
Optional – growing up for adults
You don't have to remain a product of your upbringing for the rest of your life. You can choose to grow up a second time around, parenting yourself by choosing the resources and influences that you want to shape your continued growth and development.
Growing up for adults is the process you undertake after you decide that rather than live a life and think thoughts prescribed for you, you’re going to live a life designed by you.
Now, you have a choice
In your childhood the influences that shaped your identity and worldview came from your parents and caretakers, your extended family and peers, your teachers and mentors, everyone who set an example for you and influenced the development of your thinking.
When you became an adult, influences on your thinking didn't stop. Far from it.
Although childhood is by far the most impressionable time of your life, your brain and nervous system remain malleable all your life.
Peer examples, socially accepted norms, programming from the various media sources that surround us, all continue to mold us (or keep us very much the same) all our lives, with or without our conscious consent.
But there’s a critical difference between the influences that shaped you as a child, and those that are working on you now.
Now, you have a choice.
As an adult, you have a choice: to maintain a conscious and deliberate focus on things that will serve your growth and your capacity to live a life that feels meaningful and worthwhile, or to let your attention drift.
The most distracted generation of humans ever
We live in an attention economy. Tech companies today invest billions in working out how to capture and hold your attention. (I wrote about this in more detail, in "What Should Never Have Been for Sale.")
If you let your attention drift in this environment, you're giving permission to these tech giants to feed you a steady diet of cheap, distracting entertainment and shallow news.
And this expertly curated stream of crap is designed to do what?
To provoke an emotional reaction so that you'll keep scrolling and clicking instead of living your life.
A life that happens to you, or a self-determined life
The choices you make from this point forward–about what you will allow to influence your thinking and how you’ll respond to the circumstances life presents you with—are entirely yours.
They basically fall into two options.
Option 1 – the default option – is to choose not to examine your thinking patterns and habits or the ongoing influences that continue to shape you.
By turning your gaze away from yourself and allowing your attention to drift, by default you’ll tend to focus (since you have to put your attention somewhere) on the things “out there” that you can’t do anything about.
Beware. The result will be a life you don't have much control over. It’s a life in which you’re likely to feel like a victim, like things are happening to you and around you that you have no way of influencing.
Living such a life, you’re unlikely to feel empowered to be able to make much of a difference.
Option 2 – the self-determining option – is to focus on the one thing you have complete control over. That one thing is you, and your own growth and awareness.
This way, you’re living a life in which you understand and live out the connection between who you are—how you perceive and think about yourself and how you respond to the circumstances of your life—and the results you experience.
This is the only way any lasting difference gets made – from the inside out.
Choosing to keep growing up means choosing to parent yourself – including examining the influences that surround you and choosing carefully which ones to screen out and which to keep.
In doing so, you become the "programmer", not just the programmed. You become a person who acts on life, rather than having life act on you.
Self-reliant people make very bad consumers
Growing up to become the kind of self-determined, fully actualized adult I’m talking about is not easy in our culture.
The easy path is one that actually leads us away from this kind of growth. It has two phases that go something like this:
In phase one, we're sent to school, where most of us loose the capacity to think for ourselves.
In phase two, parental figures in the form of government institutions (well-meaning but ineffective), and the profit-focused corporations that fund and direct everything (and depend on our being good consumers) all serve to keep us behaving like dependent juveniles–focused primarily on our own short term needs and wants—for the rest of our lives.
Good consumers, when they leave school, follow this path that never leads out of dependency.
If you are a good consumer, you get a job, a mortgage and a car loan, and then spend large chunks of your life doing work you may or may not like, to pay off the loans. Next, you upgrade the car, the house, and the contents of the house, so then you have more loans to pay off.
REALLY good consumers upgrade stuff before they’ve even paid it off, jogging along on the treadmill of debt and repayment that feeds the consumer economy, endlessly pursuing the next dopamine hit that accompanies the next thing, the newer, bigger, shinier, faster widget that will surely, at last, bring peace of mind and happiness.
No government will ever encourage people to grow up and think for themselves
If you are focused on your own growth and on making a contribution, you tune out the marketing messages aimed at keeping you buying in pursuit of happiness.
The reason you can avoid listening to that external chatter is that you are more internally focused; you take personal responsibility for how you feel.
You loose faith in the idea that experts and institutions can do things for you and for your family and community better than you can.
Self-reliant people are able to make their own entertainment, grow some of their own food and medicine, and trade within their local communities for many of the other things they need.
When they do buy from outside their own local area, self-reliant people who care about their impact choose to buy from ethical businesses who take good care of their own local area.
All of this is very bad news for the growth economy, which is why no profit-focused corporation will ever fund government policies to encourage the public to behave like this.
Growth in our economy, besides relying on a never-ending supply of cheap energy, also relies on consumers who are too busy consuming to spend much time thinking and doing for themselves.