When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was grow up and to have lots of money and the freedom to spend it. Then, like most people, I did grow up, only to realize that it didn’t quite work that way.
As a child, everyone (from my parents to the woman who cut my hair) called me an old soul. Maybe I was a spiritually inclined five-year-old, running around with an overly sensitive nature and constant inquisitiveness. I still played Barbies and dress up in my mother’s vintage clothes, but I also read books underneath tables and behind couches, questioned the meaning of life, and thought about my own mortality. I was a strange kid, with my bird’s eye view of the world and failing to really fit into the mainstream behaviors of my peers.
And here I am in my adult life, with my bird’s eye view of the world and failing to fit into the mainstream behaviors of my peers.
I took my own path getting here, but here I am. I worked throughout high school because having money meant a little bit of freedom—it helped me buy my first Jeep, it funded my first trip to Europe, and helped get me started in college when I returned home. Somewhere between that time and my precocious childhood, I started immersing myself in a world of “should”.
And then, fast forward to moving to NYC, where pretty much everybody is out to get ahead. That was the vibe, most days. Everyone was a shark and I was a flounder. Big city living needed a fast-paced life to grow—or at least try and keep up with it. My caffeine intake doubled almost instantaneously, and I think one time, I was charged standing on the corner of Broadway and Spring in SoHo to breathe. Rent was expensive, grocery shopping was expensive, and I was working long hours (about six days a week) to make all of my ends meet. I was finally living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and I had neither the time nor money to enjoy it.
That was the point when I realized I was terrible at doing the doggy paddle. I was barely surviving, keeping my head afloat but only by inches. Water sloshed up through my nose. It was uncomfortable.
And then those nagging “shoulds” that had been shrouding my life started to disperse slowly: first, when I bought my first pair of climbing shoes and took them traipsing up and down the Gunks cliffs. It was the life preserver that I didn’t think I needed, and even though I could only day-trip once a week, it balanced me out. It smoothed out my edges, and even with the busyness of city life constantly buzzing around me, I felt happy.
And okay, maybe I went a little overboard. It’s possible that I went overboard. I started scheduling my life three days on, four days off, packing as much as I possibly could within thirty to forty hours of work in the least amount of days. I wanted to be climbing all of the time, but I still needed to make money because rent was due the first, Shooter eats twice a day, and my car doesn’t run on vegetable oil.
The thing about money is that having it is great, but when it runs out, you need to take a look at Plan B. Money will always be one of the main determiners of what you can and cannot do, unfortunately. As for me? I still don’t have a Plan B. I’m still riding that first wave that crashed into the next one, into the next one…
I remember telling myself (and I often tell others with similar questions): You will always make more money. I say this, assuming you are healthy and able, of course. I love getting a paycheck as much as everybody else; it feeds my dog and me. The spiritual paycheck feeds something else.
It would probably be fair to call me “aimless” because, for the past five years, I have been evading becoming a real grown up. I have literally done everything in my power to bypass the transition from childhood to adulthood, convinced that it had to be more than a simple collection of markers—getting a job, moving out of your parents’ house, getting married, and having kids. And life is more than all of those things. They are all a part of life (and a wonderful part) and often, they define attaining maturity. But they are still just one part.
Chronological age isn’t necessarily the only indicator of maturity, even though we use it for more practical purposes. Age does not make age alone. I think that I was already thirty when I was five, and now my life mantra is simple: Embrace your inner five-year-old.
I am not playing dress up anymore, even though most days I still feel like I am wobbling around in my mother’s high heels that are several sizes too big for me. Somewhere around my teens, I wished that I was thirty, thinking that that would be the time in my life when everything would make sense. Things would click, my life would feel more settled, and I would have it all figured out.
It sounded good at the time, but I think if I had it all figured out, life might become quite boring. Some people might have more or less figured out than me, and that’s okay, too. People are going to freestyle stroke, butterfly, or doggy paddle the shit out of life. Me? It’s more of a casual backstroke, these days.
It’s a social construct—all of it: childhood and adulthood. The truth is, you really can be any kind of adult you want to be. Because realizing that there is a balance that allows me to be (somewhat) responsible and embrace my inner child at the same time is what drives me towards the A word (adulthood) with a more cheerful disposition. The decision making power that comes with maturity means: I can eat ice cream out of a wine glass. Mac and cheese is a nutritional enough dinner when loaded with enough veggies (and also pairs exceptionally well with desert scenery and starlight). And most importantly, I can still sleep in the dirt and wake up to beautiful places.
“Maybe I am growing up.
But please don’t tell anybody.” — Grown ups don’t sleep in their cars
Cover photograph courtesy of Mandy Barbee