The importance of being earnest.

Bear with me as I attempt to come to the bottom of a particularly perplexing problem I’ve been wrestling with. That of growing up, taking responsibility, and letting go. This could apply to a number of situations, but I’m talking in the general and hypothetical here.

What does it mean to grow up? When to we realise that we have? How do we know to take responsibility, and when do we realise that we can’t solve everybody else’s problems and let go?

I’ve been half-jokingly (and quite seriously) saying that this year I have to decide what I want to do when I grow up. Inferring that, having been a student of some type or another for 23 years, I haven’t needed to grow up and face the responsibility of the adult world. It’s true – student’s live in a false economy of time, money and responsibility. And it’s got to the stage where not having a manager making sure your work is up to scratch and being beholden to somebody or something other than one’s own thesis is more attractive than the much hyped and very difficult life of a doctoral student. And oh, a salary above the poverty line would be really fantastic round about now.

But I do myself discredit by saying that. I was fully aware of what I was signing up for when I decided to do my PhD. I knew that I would be sacrificing the equivalent of a good job at decent pay for at least three years to work on a project that would be so obscure, and mostly irrelevant, to all but a merely handful of people in the world. I knew it would be hard work, that there would be ups and downs and that sometimes I’d just want to up and leave. That I wouldn’t have a social life like all the friends I’d be leaving behind, and that really, apart from the sheer love I had for literature and what eventually became my thesis topic, it was only my life’s goal to have a doctorate before I turned 30 that drove me to my mania. But knowing those consequences before I began means that I must have been grown up a long time ago.

So when does one grow up? I’m currently helping out at my old high school teaching year 13 (Aus – year 12) Media Studies, and I look at these kids and marvel at how young they are. Not in age, but in mentality. I wonder, was my group that immature? Sure, we were a smaller class and didn’t all own iphones and ipods and facebook pages, but we were also a bit more aware about the world we existed in, even on a microcosmic level, than some of these kids. It almost appears that these days answering a simple essay question seems to be too difficult without a teacher to paraphrase it. When did that happen?

I look at those who want to (and will) go to uni or polytech here, and I wonder how they will cope in the completely foreign situation to the one they currently find themselves in: the complete freedom and autonomy, no teachers to follow you up on your assignments or help you in class, nobody to really question your judgement over the choices you want to make with your life, and in some cases, nobody but people you come to call friends to help you when you’re down. People who sometimes appear out of nowhere, and stick with you for some really obscure reason or another, or that they really do enjoy your company. At what point will they, and did I, grow up to a responsible adult?

And being a responsible adult, when do you realise that you can’t fight the battles of others for them? That you can’t live their lives and make everything alright? When comes the point you understand that the only life you can live is your own, and if you neglect that, nobody is going to live it for you? Do some people miss that flashing light completely? Is it a giant neon sign at a crossroads, or is it a change in the wind? Is it ever easy to just back away and let those who need to sort things out themselves do it and be alright with that, or does one always feel that you could have done more?

Is that the real point of being responsible and grown up? Knowing which battles to fight and which to leave and give comfort after the embers have died down?

These are the frustrating questions, the ones that can sort of be answered, but never fully, and never really to a complete conclusion. Humanity is too variable to find a resolution in the equivalent of raging at the wind, which is what I am doing here. (And if anybody answers with “How many roads must a man walk down…” I may possibly scream >.<)

My apologies for being too philosophical so late on a Sunday night. This bout of seriousness attacked me out of left field. I'll have some knitting to show off tomorrow, I hope, and some praise for the well-designed pattern that is the cobblestone sweater. (We will not mention the cricket, although I think DrK can celebrate the rugby some more (I missed the league though – sorry – how did you boys go?)).

G’night. Hope Monday treats you all well.

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9 Comments

  1. wow, lots to think about here but the first thing I should say is that the fact that you are asking these questions suggests you’re well on your way in a way i wasn’t at your age.

    Also, some of the questions you’re asking, I can now answer a little more easily than I used to be able to, which tells me I maybe have grown up a little bit more than I give myself credit for.

    For me, I started to recognise I was not supposed to fight other peoples’ battles for them when I realised that nobody was fighting mine for me. I started to see what it meant to draw some of those lines.

  2. All good questions! I think I may have started asking myself these, and answering them, when I was around 28 – which was a few years after I started work, and also the year I got married, although I don’t know if that had anything to do with it!

    But I really only started to feel properly grown up (well, at least partly, I’m still a child in many ways!) when I was in my early-mid 30s. So not that long ago!! And I still catch myself “growing up” every so often. I know I am much more careful at picking my battles now, and about letting other people “win” when it really doesn’t matter to me, and fighting for things only when it really matters (but I’m not perfect at that!!)

    As for the kids you are teaching – I think it is pretty common for older generations to despair of younger generations, and to think that they were far more mature at that age than the kids they are observing. Maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t! I certainly know what you are saying, I’ve thought the same thing!!

  3. I think it was Robin Williams who said adults are just children with debt. I don’t think we stop growing up and the older I get, the more I realise we’re just as capable of doing the silly, thoughtless, nutty things we did at twelve… and sometimes, just as capable of doing the sweet, kind and thoughtful things too. Sometimes we’re grown up about one thing and not about another. And sometimes we grow down, which can be a wise choice. Sometimes sideways… weird. (And sometimes the students are okay. They can’t carry on independently yet, but when they’re in that situation, they learn quickly. You’re often putting the first bit of work into them learning independence – so you don’t always see the outcome. The lecturers at uni get to see that. They’ll be relieved. And sometimes the kids who have it altogether at school and look like they’ll be set… aren’t. Life’s funny.)

    But I do think I want to be Emma Thompson when I grow up.

  4. Honestly, I’m not sure we really do grow up fully to be honest. You choose to be one way or another, we all make those weird choices about life, but you must also live with the results of those choices. As a person living with the results of educational debt (and a hell of a lot of it), I tell you now, it sucks. Getting older is SO much better than being young with debt. You can actually PAY for the debt.

    It sucks now because you’re probably feeling very capable of doing a lot of things, but no one will take it at face value. You have to ‘prove’ yourself. I am also in that situation unfortunately. Being low man on the totem pole with a ‘fancy’ degree kinda sucks. But, you’ll get through it, and knowing which battles to fight will just kinda come with time. You’ll figure it out soon enough.

  5. oh youre on your way, for sure, you are much more grown up than others i know your age. and here i am in my 40s not feeling particularly grown up, so you know, its all relative! i think i felt something shift when i turned 40 which was no longer caring what other people thought of me, that was a big moment because then youre just responsible to and for yourself. i admire your persistence and dedication to your intellectual development and i know it will pay off. as for the kids of tomorrow, having taught them at uni, i do despair in the most part. there is a huge difference between us and them that is not just generational. their lack of self-responsibility is very frightening, because it comes with a sense of entitlement and an over inflated sense of their own worth. i dont know how they will cope in the ‘real world’. but the good ones are still there and you hope they will go on to be the ones that make a difference.

    and yes, very happy with that particular game but my tipping is still taking a beating! can’t these guys just play to expectations, for once!! and the league is all over the place, and the bunnies cant catch a break and its just all too much really!

  6. Oh this is a contradictory subject for me! I was always very mature and responsible yet also never wanted to grow up and vowed not to forget what it was like to be a kid. I have spent my early 30’s analysing myself way too much, worrying about how I should be (more social? More career driven? seeking more challenges? Bah!) For many of us, our parents will always seem more grown up than us and I have just tried to accept that.

  7. I love posts like this, lots to think about ..

    I believe society will change to accomodate the needs of the generation ahead – not the other way around. Even if we despair about the immaturity of the young, the notion that everything in life is measured by how it affects ME, fact remains that they’re coming and if they won’t be changing, maybe we will have to change for them. And, in a few short years, those kids you teach will become the teachers of tomorrow.

    I went to a conference once about dealing with Gen Y – and there was a lot of complaining about the things you speak of, how they have no care for details, no accuracy in workpractices, won’t do as they’re told (won’t even ring up when they’re sick) etc etc etc. The speaker held up his hand and said this ‘When you go to surfing lessons they don’t teach you how to make a wave. They teach you how to surf the wave you’ve got’.

    Even more to think about…

    As for growing up… At some point in my 20’s I kind of realised the failings of my own parents and decided to just love them for what they were – human beings that did the best they could with what they had. I stopped blaming them for every fault I had, and took control of my own happiness. Then I had children, and the weight of responsibility for them was very sobering . But you know, I still don’t think I’m very grown up.

  8. At 52 I have finally had to accept that this is what I am when I “grow up”. I have to stop thinking about what my career will be and more of what my life as a person will be. I am focusing on how to be happy and make others happy. I’ll never be rich or have lots of things (unless the lottery thing comes through) and i guess I’m ok with that. I am learning all the time and encorporating all that into who and what I am.

    Grown up? Nah. Growing? You bet.

  9. Growing up is a weird one. Growing older day by day or becoming more aware of others outside yourself and how your actions affect them and what you can do to influence that. Some people come early to it, some later. I was a bit slow on the uptake, it took having kids to give me a kick start. Not saying I’m “there”, more that I think rather than happening at an age I think it’s more about exposure to challenging and changing situations, and I’ve certainly been exposed to more of those since having my kids than before. If nothing else they make you think outside yourself more just by being there.

    Interesting topic, certainly thought provoking.

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