What Does It Mean to Grow Up?

Someone asked me recently when it was that I felt I grew up.

She was concerned with her teenage son, DJ. DJ loves everything fictional from fantasy to sci-fi, in games, movies, books, etc. He especially loves Lord of the Rings, Deadpool, and going to comicons. This makes her worried because he’s reaching the age where she’s trying to have a discussion about his next step after high school. There’s been talk about joining the US Armed Forces, or attending a college or university, I think I recall something even about a firefighting career. DJ is undecided about his future and is evidently content with living in the present rather than putting effort into steering his path towards a bright, lucrative future. No doubt. And not entirely unique to him.

Understandably, DJ’s mother is very preoccupied with this and wants him to grow up. Our discussion about this was mostly her fretting over the way he spends his time sketching heroes, playing video games, and keeping up with the current vein of super hero movies.

“So, when did you feel you finally grew up?”

“Well, honestly I don’t feel I’ve grown up. I still feel like that little boy I was with all the amazement of possibilities. Truly, I still see through the lens of my boyhood – drawing, playing with ideas from my imagination, and that’s probably why I write. My perspective has matured, of course. I respond to my sense of obligation and responsibility. However, I remain with that wonder and imagination and use that energy to get things done. It’s a choice, I think, and maybe a little bit of a burden. But I know no other way.”

“I don’t know, I just wish he would grow up.” She huffed.

“Does growing up mean stop playing video games and discontinue the fascination with stories about far away worlds with bigger-than-life characters?”

“Yes.” She squinted from the bright sun, then bit her lower lip, “I don’t know, maybe. He just needs to start thinking about what he’s going to do with his life. How was the military? Did you feel it made you grow up and get some discipline in your life?”

“A lot of people have said exactly that, ‘the military gave me discipline’, and I think I’ve even said that once or twice. But I have a different view now. The military provided a structure for the discipline I already had. It wasn’t that I had no discipline, that discipline is taught to us in the home and through an education system. The military is one way to sharpen and give focus, but college will make you rise to the challenge too, and so will a job. A person can ‘grow up’ in any setting – military or not. Each day, an individual must make a decision if they’re going to be successful with 100% effort, or half-ass effort, or simply be lazy and make excuses. I have some news for you, they play video games and watch movies in the military too. What do you think those young privates are doing on their own time? They play video games and watch movies at the university too. Hell, there are people well into their 30s and 40s that still play video games and watch movies.”

Growing up doesn’t come with age, it comes with a decision to be useful.

I’m sure she wanted me to say something about how being in the military made me grow up. That it gave me a unique bearing, and I put away my video games and reading books with pictures, and now all I do is wear a suit, and talk business, and make lots of money. Maybe for some people, that was their experience. True, I don’t spend my afternoons reading comics anymore, however that same imagination and boyhood thrill resides in me and the expression of wonder has simply changed form. Rather than only taking in, now I put my imagination to use. Now, I write. I draw. I paint. I communicate it. I create worlds, and I even draw from those boyhood days when I played with cars and rode my bike, those were fun times filled with possibilities. Everything I create is invariably traced to an experience or an influence that played from my past.

Growing up doesn’t come with age, it comes with a decision to be useful. It’s not only about being responsible or making money, it’s about communicating something to those that will follow after.

What does your grown upness say?

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