Recently we reread this article and it served as inspiration and impetus for a conversation about what it means to be a "grown up" - full transparency: this is a distinction we grapple with often. Whether twenty-four or fifty-four, age (and aging) represents something different to everyone. We invited our friend (and one of the wisest people we know), Karey Mackin, to share some honest insight and perspective on the topic...
I am almost halfway through my forties, which means I am probably older than you. But don't feel sorry for me just yet. I've read so many enthusiastic articles that proclaim 40 to be the new 30, plus I'm incredibly immature, so I'm basically 24.
I'm teasing, but I'm not. Do we honestly need to be assured that 40 is the new black and 30 is the new anything, and don't worry if you're in your twenties and making poor choices because that's exactly what's supposed to happen during that decade, sweetie. You'll learn that in your thirties, which may show up masquerading as your twenties in pricier denim. Oh, I know it's confusing, dear, but you'll totally get it in your forties. And by your fifties...well...who cares?
Do you ever fudge your age a bit? I do, too! Notice my first seven words in this article; I can't even write the number without being vague or adding ish. Why can't we embrace our true ages, however many candles on our cakes? Why do we feel the need to renovate the numbers at all? If I think about it, I honestly don't want to subtract a moment. Not even one from my second year in college when I spent every Tuesday and Thursday at Nickel Beer Night. (It's amazing the damage a dollar can do to a girl.) But for my numbers to add up, something's got to go.
So do I short my littlest age when I learned what it felt like to be so small but still someone's entire big world? That feeling comes in handy later on, you know. Every buck-toothed, cowlicked, allergy-eyed school picture until freshman year when I got totally cute and suddenly realized that being pretty didn't mean as much as I thought it would? That's helpful, too. Maybe I erase the years my dad and oldest sister were sick until they left us. But that's also when my mom showed me that a hero didn't need to be able to leap tall buildings with a single bound. A true hero just needed to find a way to heal her shattered heart at the end of every day, and begin saving her world all over again in the morning. I found out that I didn't make my babies; they made me. Day after day, I learned what it felt like to be on top, and I learned what it felt like to be all alone at the bottom, and I learned I would be just fine if I landed most days in the soft middle. No, not even the lowest points in my life deserve to be minused. They taught me to climb out from the negative and begin again at zero.
And yet I get Botox every six months to soften my laugh lines, and I may try fillers soon because I've never had cheekbones in my life and I kind of think I'm ready for them.
Is it that growing older means growing up? Is that what's scaring us? Is that what we want to cheat? I asked a few friends what being a grown-up means to them, and their answers were mostly kind of sad to me. There seems to be a lot of responsibility and a defining loss of innocence – not to mention collagen – involved in this grown-up gig. Very little fun happens, on the whole, but if it ever does, it's such a departure from everyday grown-up life that we have to Instagram the heck out of it while recovering on the couch for two days. We are, quite simply, not the same as we once were. We are grown-ups.
I say hooray for that, in a small, hesitant sort of whisper. I timidly suggest a cease and desist in our attempts to redefine numbers, and offer up a change in our vocabulary instead. We can start with what it means to be a really good grown-up. A reworking of its formerly pathetic definition, if you will, into someone who is gratefully and openly adding days to her calendar in some inspired fashion. Here's what I suggest.
Own your age. When my brother was interviewing for a position traditionally given to someone ten or so years his senior, a discrepancy that concerned his interviewer greatly, he held up his hands and said, "I am as old as I can possibly be." He got the job, and taught me a lesson I've never forgotten: Our number is out of our control, so we might as well bake her a cake and beg her to stay until the next one shows up.
Don't wear what you should. Wear what you would. A killer grown-up defines her own style, borrowing from who she was and stealing from who she wants to become. When Harper's Bazaar tries to tell me how to translate trends in order to be fabulous at every age, I'm always left a little peeved and coveting a look blended from someone in her twenties and another in her sixties. I guess that adds up.
Forget opinions, and memorize empathy. Good grown-ups don't care about being right; they prefer being informed. The older I get, the more I understand that black and white are best left to zebras, so you will find me in the grey. If someone ever described me as close-minded, I think I would cry. Because growing up is so much more enjoyable and entertaining – for you and everyone around – when you're not keeping score or pushing judgement.
Don't borrow your relevance. I stopped blogging the minute I understood that I could no longer share the majority of my day and those with whom I spent it; their stories aren't mine. It was a defining moment for me, and almost overnight I reinvented myself. I worked on my career and added hobbies that scared the beans out of me. An inspired and ever challenged grown-up who doesn't rent her content is the very best kind. I highly recommend it.
Challenge your mind and body. No, shock your mind and body. Whatever it is that gives you butterflies times a hundred, fly away with it. I used to be afraid of water until I realized that over half my body is made up of the stuff. So I learned to swim last year. When your heart no longer races out of fear, and beats instead from your fast pace or level of excitement? It's amazing.
Don't be so scared of responsibility. Let's say everyone's right, and being a grown-up involves copious amounts of responsibility and obligation and a thousand other serious words. Whatever. Don't allow your dreams to get added to the laundry and tacked onto the mortgage. The trick is to keep looking at all the duties that keep your day going as gifted joys, with the wonder of a 16 year old on her first solo trek to 7-eleven for nothing more than an icy red drink. Remember that? Pay your bills, separate your whites from your reds, and take as many joyrides through your life as you possibly can.
Are we agreed, then? No more cheapening our true sums. No more being afraid of growing up. But, much like immunizations, it only works if we're all in this together. So I'll start: Hi. My name's Karey. I'm 45 years old, which happens to be the same age as my sweet sister was the year she died. I am very, very happy to be here.
Huh. That didn't hurt at all.
p.s. Sincere tips for making new friends as an adult.