Growing old and growing up are not necessarily one and the same.
Growing older, or even old if you are lucky enough, is the natural process of aging and the number of times the Earth has orbited the sun since you were born; maturity, growing up, is not pertained to a number and is the result of our choices on the journey from childhood to adulthood.
It could be argued that growing up is simply a state of mind – using knowledge you have gained from life experiences, ‘lessons’, to make more informed decisions for yourself and your relationships.
Immaturity and irresponsibility can occur when the individual is either unwilling to learn the lesson or unable to understand the lesson. This doesn’t imply stupidity or arrogance, only that that person is holding onto the morals and lessons that are programmed into our psyche early in childhood through fairy tales, nursery rhymes and stories of superheroes.
From an early age, we are taught to believe that the witches and bad guys will be easily recognisable with their warts, scars and eyes patches, that the line between good and bad is a very definite one and that no matter the obstacles, good will always triumph over evil without crossing that clear line. If it doesn’t, a Fairy Godmother will magically appear and wave her wand.
The earliest, and hardest, lessons to learn on the path to maturity are that no Fairy Godmother is going to magically make everything perfect and that the line between good and evil is not so crystal clear. Sometimes it is the beautiful princess who is the cruel, manipulative witch and sometimes the overgrown hedge of thorns that blocks our path requires more than a sword to cut it down.
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That is not to say that learning how to make the correct decision is easy, because it certainly isn’t, and sometimes there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choice but only the lesser of two evils. Mistakes are an inevitable part of the maturing process; they are the tools that help us learn how to make the correct choices. As the saying goes ‘You cannot be old and wise if you were never young and reckless’. Mistakes, errors in judgement, circumstances beyond our control and regrets are all life lessons that will build the foundations of our character.
However, as the path to maturity is a very personal and emotional one, not all students will walk away from the same situation with the same knowledge; the loss of a loved one or even simply loss in general, is a powerful example of a life experience with different interpretations.
Like mistakes and regrets, grief is an unavoidable, although painful, part of the maturing process. It could even be said that grief is not a lesson but a test – a highly emotional situation beyond our control, a situation in which we feel we have no choice. In such a confusing situation, maturity often leads to a previously unknown emotional strength and the knowledge that although we did not choose to be in such a painful situation, we can choose how we feel or think about the experience.
Whatever the life experience may be, knowledge is to be gained from it. Only with age comes hindsight, the ability to appreciate that everything happens for a reason – even if we are unable to understand what that reason is at the time.