Growing Up Vs. Growing Old: It Isn’t Something That Happens To You, It’s Something You Do

by Kelley Lord

I distinctly remember being on our yearly tropical vacation, gazing at my 10-year-old friend talking about her age.

I admiringly looked up at her and imagined what it'd be like to be a whole two years older; double digits seemed like a whole new world.

Because she was the oldest in our group, she was obviously the coolest, the trendsetter. I longed to look so mature and put together.

My messy ponytail would turn into well-kept locks tucked behind my ears, and my thoughts would roll smoothly off my tongue.

Yet, my 10th birthday came around and I was a still quite the same hyperactive, messy kid. I wondered what happened.

Thirteen years later, my roommate Claire and I swirl around our dyed glasses of wine and discuss what growing up means. Claire had just turned 24, and it was significantly old for her.

I told her I caught myself at times saying, "I just turned 23 this summer," instead of simply responding, "I am 23."

There people who have lived whole lifetimes by the time they turn 23.

By the age of 23, some people are Olympians, entrepreneurs, movie stars, world travelers, husbands, wives and even parents.

It is, of course, not the case for everyone, and certainly not for two girls trying to figure out who they were while pursuing writing careers in New York City, but we still wondered if we were moving at the right pace.

No matter your age or where you think you should be, you have to actively and consistently create your identity. There is no saying what your version of 23 will look like.

You could easily send yourself into an abusive, addictive downward spiral just as easily as you can become the next award-winning novelist.

To make steps toward becoming the person you want to be, you have to do things out of character.

You are not the party girl your friends hoped for on a Friday night if you don't want to be. Likewise, you should never feel pressured to laugh at a joke that may offend your beliefs. No one's expectation of you should factor into what you want for yourself.

There is a reason people say "grow up" instead of "grow old." It's a conscious change you must be willing to make within yourself. You may want to fire back at someone who upset you, but it would reflect poorly on your maturity.

In the same conversation, I told Claire about my sister and I, and how we used to not get along. We both played off each other’s immaturity until we got a glimpse into a time machine.

Forty years into the future, we saw my mother and her sister in fights that didn't make sense and holding resentments that served no purpose.

I think that's when my sister and I both realized immaturity is not something you grow out of. Repairing our bond was something we could no longer blame on our youth; it was something we had to actively confront and fix.

"I think when we're young, we assume growing up is something that's going to happen to us," Claire responded. "But, it turns out it's something we have to do." What came in such casual conversation got me to stop and think.

You can't look at your aspirations as something "down the road" that will take care of itself gradually over time.

Now is the time to repair relationships and to build up yourself. I realized quality friendships don't happen on their own, either. It takes nights like I had with Claire, when you just share a bottle of wine and really listen to each other.

I used to yearn to be as put together as my 10-year-old friend when I was 8, but did nothing about it. Likewise, I walk around Manhattan and see woman in their 30s who rock nice outfits, have fit bodies, look like they're heading somewhere important, exerting confidence.

The reality is, if you don't come from money, have an incredible metabolism, know someone at your dream company and have unconditional faith in yourself, you have to actively do what you can to change the circumstances you hope for.

To appear put together, you have to forcefully put yourself together. Then again, maybe you don't care for any of those things, in which growing up takes on a whole new meaning.

When it comes down to it, the only difference between growing up and growing old is choosing to make the effort to create your future, instead of simply allowing it to happen to you.