I’ve always been told I’m “mature for my age”: my aunts have called me an old soul. My mom said I was born middle-aged. Even my penchant for tea and embroidery would seem to exemplify my aged nature.
But I’m 21 years old, and I feel my youth a lot of the time. There are myriad moments I look back on with regret, times when I react without thinking. I see maturity as meaning you act with purpose, that you don’t indulge in pettiness or let your ego get involved—perhaps you possess a modicum of wisdom. I like to think of myself as being mature, but it’s not until I’m steeped in triviality that I feel I’ve got a lot of growing up to do.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being a youthful ingénue. Maturity also doesn’t mean mitigating all lapses in judgement—to say otherwise would be to deny human nature and our imperfections. And, in C.S. Lewis’ words, “To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. … When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
Maybe maturity is the wrong word because it’s ambiguous, encapsulating so much that it means nothing. I feel I’m “mature” in a specific sense. I’ve gotten credit for preferring a book over going out, for listening to others’ problems, and for occasionally giving some good advice. But that doesn’t negate when I act without thinking, or that anyone can give good advice when they aren’t analyzing their own life.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve been living away from my parents for over a year now; that my partner in crime is an endlessly lovely and thoughtful 27-year-old; that I’m getting tired of yielding to my youth. It’s equally as important to accept our imperfections, but understanding, accepting, and being conscious of flaws seems part of “adulting.” And I crave self-reflection and growth.
It’s like the emotional equivalent of puberty, this awkward period of adulthood stuck between wild adolescence and possibly settling down. Grappling to figure out who you want to be and how you’re going to get there, while it’s about all you can do to simply be. It’s so much easier to be impulsive, to get upset when there’s no reason to, and then claim maturity by listening to and offering advice for someone else’s problems. It’s far harder to think about your own actions, and how you can be a better human.
I want to be thoughtful. I want to pause, rather than leaping to judgement or action. I want to be Audrey Hepburn, not Holly Golightly. Of course I’m going to keep making mistakes, but I want to start truly learning from my errors.
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Originally published in the Other Press.