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Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?
Seriously, this question isn’t just for preschoolers. If you think you’re too old to ponder upon such things, I strongly encourage you to think again.
What kind of a person would you like to become in the next 5-10 years? What skills and qualities would you like to develop in yourself? What things would you like to be capable of doing that seem almost impossible now? And most importantly, who are the people that already embody these traits, living the dream that you’d like to reach for yourself some day?
My yoga teacher is certainly this kind of person. We’ve been on many retreats together with our families, her daughter is just a few months older than mine. Staying in the same house for a few days I could watch them interact with each other, and see how she’s dealing with all the joys and challenges of raising a rebellious toddler. Watching her set clear boundaries and reframe difficult situations with compassionate patience is incredibly inspiring. When I grow up, I’d love to become the kind of mother that she is.
I’m lucky to have more friends who are more mature than I am. It’s hard to describe them as a group, they work at all sorts of jobs and have different family arrangements. Not all of them are even necessarily spiritual. But one thing they all have in common is taking responsibility for themselves and expanding it further. Instead of waiting for someone to come and make everything right, they do whatever they can, learn from their mistakes, and keep iterating forever. Instead of complaining about how life treated them, they always find reasons to be grateful and share their joy with others. I’ve watch them in circumstances that would make me curl up in a corner and wallow in misery, and they were all on top of their game and thriving. When everyone is in pain and under great pressure, they know how to take care of not just themselves but also of everyone else around, tending to their bodies and lifting their spirits.
These friends aren’t necessarily much older than me. They just have much more experience in learning what they are capable of and pushing their limits further. None of them was born with it, they achieved it through years of dedicated practice of different kinds, be it yoga, plant medicine, or even boy scout training. How they show up in everyday life is the best testament to all the work they’ve done, and makes me hopeful that if I keep working on myself then I’ll be capable of amazing things too. I’ve grown a lot over the last few years, but my more mature friends remind me that there is so much more there yet for me to discover.
When I hear people older than me saying they’re still a child at heart and don’t want to ever grow up, I know they’re talking about a sense of playfulness and wonder. Giving up on these things gets often mistaken for responsibility, for coming to terms with what’s real or possible to achieve. And yet the most mature people I know are also the most playful and successful in living the lives they’ve always dreamed of. Instead of accepting someone else’s opinions about what’s possible, they simply show up, act in the real world, and figure it out for themselves.
Their lives might not look like mainstream definitions of success. Some prefer peace and quiet over fame and a lot of money. But one thing they all have in common is that they wouldn’t trade places with anyone else. They know they’re on the right path and doing the right thing—right for them personally. There are as many ways to live a good life as there are people, and they don’t care too much about what everyone else might think.
I think I’m slowly arriving there too after many years of searching. The last time I came back home from a retreat, my husband told me I didn’t look like I’d attended one at all.
- You always had these revolutionary insights about all the things you should change about your life - he said. - Don’t you feel like you should totally change something this time?
- Not really - I replied - My most revolutionary insight right now is that I should play guitar more often. Maybe this means that I’ve finally discovered what I want out of life, and that I’m finally living it?
Having met my wisest and most mature friends, I know this is actually just the beginning.
There aren’t many role models in our culture for people as they’re growing older. Aging celebrities usually try to look and behave young for as long as they can. Mature people know they don’t have to put up with meaningless busywork or bullshit requirements, so you’ll rarely meet them by chance at any random workplace or school. Add age segregation on top of that, and you can go for your whole life without meeting a single person happily responsible for their life and thriving, let alone someone on a similar path to your own. Until I was in my 30s I’ve hardly met anyone that I could look up to and think of them as an older and more awesome version of myself.
Luckily, I was born in quite amazing times. Unlike my mom or my grandma at the same age I had access to the internet with all sorts of incredible blogs and books. Written words aren’t a perfect substitute for face to face interaction as they won’t tell you much about how the author actually behaves in their private life. Many famous spiritual teachers couldn’t quite keep up with what they themselves preached. Still, all the things I’ve read in my 20s gave me a glimpse into a completely different world than the one I knew so far, showing me that there are so many fascinating people all around the world doing so many things that I could aspire to.
Reading stuff written by people I admired was just the beginning of a very long journey. It took me a lot of trial and error to determine what makes sense in my situation, or which of these things I actually wanted to follow. Stuff written by monks for other monks doesn’t necessarily make sense when you’re a mom of a newborn baby, and yet I’ve spent many years searching for some universal truths that would be applicable to everyone everywhere.
But eventually after many experiments, silly mistakes and hard-won lessons, I’m slowly discovering the person I was always meant to be. I’m becoming happier, wiser, and more fulfilled with every passing year, and watching my wisest friends I know there’s no limit to how much someone might grow and learn in their lifetime. After taking charge of their own lives they all continue to work in their families, communities and neighborhoods, expanding their circles of responsibility ever further.
And maybe if we all do that, our own kids will have an easier job figuring out who they want to be when they grow up. Perhaps they’ll also arrive at that place at an earlier age? Compared with us, they will at least have good examples of many different paths that a happy and fulfilled grownup life can take—and hopefully also many great role models that they can ask for advice and learn from.
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