At what age do you become a grown-up? Is it 18? 21? Maybe it’s when we get our first real job or get married and start raising a family. Those milestones certainly mark reaching adulthood. But do they mean we’ve grown up?
I’ve seen plenty of adults who behave like children.
I mean full-on with heading-spinning, foot stomping temper tantrums. Remember John McEnroe flinging his tennis racket and screaming at the line judge? His behavior was more entertaining than the tennis match. It was like watching a car wreck. But we didn’t respect him.
Sometimes childish behavior is more passive.
There’s a bit of pouting involved. Clamming up or flinging out little wounding zingers adds spice to the mix, especially if you’re not getting the attention you think you deserve. (That’s been my own childish behavior of choice.) Even pretending like nothing is wrong when there’s a big white elephant in the room is a way of reverting to childlike coping. Hey, if we don’t talk about, maybe it will go away!
I think becoming a grown-up is a work in progress.
It’s a daily choice of who we want to be and then consistently acting on that choice. Some of us have been fortunate enough to have parents who modeled grown-up behavior. But plenty of people haven’t had that advantage. So when we become adults, we must learn from scratch how to be a grown-up. I had a mixed bag with my parents, but I also learned from mentors and friends. I was a keen observer of behavior I wanted to emulate, and in spite of frequent set-backs, I continue to strive toward getting my grown-up wings.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way:
1. Stop Whining. Everyone has difficulties, hardships, bad days, and crappy past experiences. There are times we need to work these out with a friend or counselor. But constantly whining about problems is self-indulgent. Taking action to address problems or moving past them shows maturity.
2. Admit Mistakes. We all make them. It’s embarrassing and hard to concede. But saying “I was wrong” is one of the most grown-up things you can do. It will gain you barrels of respect.
3. Apologize. That’s right up there with admitting mistakes. Sometimes we must apologize even if we don’t believe we are completely in the wrong. It’s a way of saying, “I want to heal this thing between us.” No score keeping on apologies either.
4. Win and Lose Graciously. No gloating. No pouting. Acknowledge the other person’s efforts if you win. Acknowledge the other person’s superior efforts is you lose. Congratulate them wholeheartedly, even if you must fake it in the moment.
5. Willingly Learn from Others. Even children. Open yourself to the reality that you don’t know everything about anything, even if you think you do. Stay in a learning mode and open yourself to other options and perspectives. Listen for learning gems that you might receive, even from a younger, less experienced person.
6. Laugh at Yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Be lighthearted and a little self-deprecating. You will pull people toward you and make them feel so much more comfortable.
7. Don’t Posture. Be real. Don’t act smarter, richer, more powerful, or better than you are. In fact, even if you are those things, be authentic and connect with others on the level where we are all alike — our humanity.
8. Address Problems Head-On. If there is a problem, deal with it as soon as possible in a thoughtful, reasonable and respectful way. Don’t let a problem simmer. Don’t ignore it just hoping it will go away. It won’t. Take action and get it behind you.
9. Communicate Calmly. It’s hard to do if you are angry. So wait until you calm down. Bite your tongue. Count to ten. Do whatever you have to do in the moment to keep things from escalating. Then later go back and discuss it calmly with mutual resolution in mind — not winning.
10. Show Kindness. Boy does this go a long way. Just be kind to people, especially those closest to you. Especially your spouse or significant other. I mean, who deserves it more?
11. Live Responsibly. You know what this is about. Live within your means. Take care of your health. Don’t over-indulge. Be on time. Have integrity. Keep your word. Be there for your children, your parents and your friends.
12. Stretch Yourself. Take actions that will help you grow emotionally, professionally, intellectually, physically and spiritually. Keep striving for your fullest potential. Accept that fear, failure and discomfort may be involved, but take the actions anyway. Don’t think that you are a full-fledged grown-up yet. There’s always something to learn!