Growing up... figuratively, of course.
February 9, 2016 11:26 PM   Subscribe

Have had some not-so-great previous years, some ongoing struggles, and more anticipated in coming years/decades. All of this has brought me face to face with my worst personality traits as well as given me a chance to work hard on the things I'd really like to change going forward and give myself a fresh start, so to speak. Is there a manual, road map or something for acquiring the most elusive of traits? Interested in anecdotes, from those in their late thirties and beyond, of personal journey in developing maturity.

A few things that I've had to work on, and still working on: patience with uncertainty of outcomes that seem life or death deals, patience with being in a limbo, patience with people/bureaucracy, anger, giving others a break or the benefit of doubt repeatedly, compromising better, finding win-win solutions in the thick of fairly trying circumstances, dealing with how things are, achieving what I feel I should have (job, relationship, house) at my age vs where I find myself right now etc. I know I can shed thought patterns/beliefs/learning patterns (at work) that are no longer useful at any time but I also want to be able to better recognize intangible things- in a timely manner, not in retrospect 10 years down the road- that I can change or do in the moment.

The people I admire the most (all in their 50s or beyond) appear to be these calmly sailing yachts of maturity no matter what the weather, especially when a storm is passing by- and I am disappointed that I can't muster half the grace when I am in the midst of things or otherwise. So, I am curious about the following-

1. What are some of the things you realized were personal struggles for you, when it comes to developing maturity?

2. How did you become aware of it, and around what age?

3. Most importantly, how did you go about changing it and how has it worked out thus far?

posted by xm to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Here's my new favorite story! I don't know where I heard it recently, but it's famous enough that some will recognize it and give it a cite...

A long long time ago there was a tranquil village or city somewhere (China? Japan?) they did not have an army, but they did have a wise holy man who lived up on a hill. One day, a fierce conquerer type comes with his army to enslave the people. He goes to the holy man to kill him, as a way of frightening the townsfolk into submission. He draws his sword and says to the holy man, "I can slice you open with my sword and not even blink! Surrender to me!"

The holy man replies with serious calm, "You can slice me open with your sword a thousand times, and I won't even blink."

The conquerer dude either runs away in fear, or bows down to the holy man and changes his ways in life. I can't remember which, and doesn't matter.

I want to be that holy man whose strength comes from so deep within, he can face anything in Life with true personal stability. I'm not saying you should go be a monk, but many a parable and religious teaching counsels looking within yourself for answers. I try to embody this. Give it a go! YMMV.
posted by jbenben at 12:30 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I may have told this story elsewhere on the green...
When I was in my mid-twenties, I lost most of my material possessions through a series of unfortunate events, including a car accident. I also lost my grandmother, my financial support, and was made to understand that the love of my life didn't feel the same way about me. This all happened in the space of a few months. I was barely hanging on financially and emotionally, but then one day I woke up and realized, that "I'm still here!" My worst fears had come true, and I survived. It sounds so stupid simple, but it was an amazing thing to suddenly know that I was not my possessions, or my attachments to people and outcomes.

I had a truly magical three months of what I later called grace. I saw how frightened we all are, and how we all want love and validation. I felt so tender-hearted towards everyone, including myself, and people responded to me in a way they'd never done before. And I knew in the depths of myself that the only thing to do in life is to serve. In every encounter and endeavor. The other really important thing I understood is that this "grace" or truth or whatever you want to call it, is available to all of us all of the time. I see it as behind a kind of veil, that we can pull aside whenever we choose.

Then gradually, as had to happen, I slowly pulled my life back together, and went back to school, and I literally felt the moment that I closed back down and went back to worrying and planning, and doing lots of stuff, rather than just being. I didn't have whatever it takes to keep the veil pulled back.

But the thing is, that I've had that reference point ever since. It's my touchstone...I call it my "free person" as in, what would my free person do? I'm in my mid-fifties now, and what I learned then has never failed when the shit hits the fan. Meditation is as close as I've gotten to experiencing it again. And yeah, life is really busy and I forget to make time for it.

Hope that helps and of course, YMMV. You'll get there. The fact that you even asked this question proves that.
posted by Gusaroo at 1:16 AM on February 10, 2016 [46 favorites]

Best answer: Summing up (1) would have to be forgiveness and empathy. Everyone has their problems, and it doesn't matter if they look small from where you are; people carry burdens differently. (2) Obviously when I was in my early 30s this was all clarified for me. I got cats and then a child and I had to take the focus off of me, me, me! Obviously. [*] (3) Forgiving myself. I can't change my past screw-ups, but I can change things so I don't make the same screw-ups, and I'm doing well with regularly re-focusing on "Am I doing better than I was doing before? Am I doing the best I can, right now? If not, how can I get back on that path?"

[*] The terrifying thing about all this is that if I am such a wisdom-riddled genius at this age (41) and now so very, very aware of my teens/twenties/thirties screw-ups, I...the rest of my life is going to involve a lot of humility and humiliation over mistakes I'm making right now. History teaches that I will do that until I die. But, that's great! My younger-me screw-ups would only make me a lousy person if I looked back and said 'Yeah, that was bad, and I hurt those people. But so what?' Using all of your screw-ups as a potential font of wisdom that you can keep drawing upon until you die is a very different, useful thing.

I like learning from younger me, too. When I was a kid and it was right before, I don't know, the grade seven math exam, and people were panicking in the hall, I asked, "Do you remember what mark you got on the grade six math exam?" They pretty much never did. "Do you think even if the mark had been terrible, that that would matter now, a year later?" Pause -- "No..." I was a middle school troublemaker in some ways, but that wasn't one of them, even if the teachers didn't like the "Your grade isn't going to matter at all in a year!" idea. It relaxed people going in to the exam room; that was what was needed.

"Will this matter in [time period]?" is still a good metric. If you are the only one who will suffer, and the time is relatively short -- pffft!

The "calmly sailing yachts" are, best I can tell, people who have their priorities sorted out well. Some @#$* took off part of your car and drove off? Lost your bus pass on the first day of the month? Those mean nothing. It doesn't matter if you're poor and that's a huge hit -- outside of very unique circumstances, that won't change your life. I seem calm and happy; I have nightmarish plumbing and roofing problems right now. I still have running water and a roof! I'm pretty much in the worldwide "1%." Sort out priorities. Real priorities, not bullshit ones foisted on us by advertisers.

The thing that changed me the most, and helped me go from adolescent jerk to 'adult,' was to just stop focusing on me. At some point in an old 'Peanuts' cartoon Charlie Brown is asked why we're put on earth. I think his reply is 'so we can help others.' Lucy (?) scoffs. But this is correct. When I am not being a good grown-up and I need to and am able to re-focus on that, the way to get back on track is 'go and do something that helps somebody else.' When I was a kid I had aspirations that involved getting the Order of Canada, but now, I'm good with stuff like weeding the local beach. Or bringing homemade bread and stew to neighbours who came over to see if they could help when I had a house problem. Nothing big. (But, they really liked the bread and stew!)

(On preview: Gusaroo's state of grace is so eloquently stated, and sums up a lot of what I am still learning!)

(And, be wary of anybody who thinks they have it all figured out. The ideal is to never stop learning. Even the very wise falter! Forgive yourself.)

And: great question.
posted by kmennie at 1:37 AM on February 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I'm 41 and I haven't worked things out into a big interlocking structure, but I've learned a few things that have resolved into some constellations by which I can navigate.

Maintain the most effective version of yourself, versus feeling obligated to suffer privation as some sort of moral scouring. It's the same idea of putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others. Tend your garden to support bountiful generosity; fertile sweet soil produces more and healthier produce than bitter tired soil.

In service to the above, establish your boundaries. Everyone needs them. You can't have a centering space of peace if you can't establish a sanctuary.

The one thing you can't get in infinite measure is time. So I think of how to wisely budget it, to not be wasteful of it, and I can make decisions about the relative value of buying things vs. spending to free up time. If absolutely nothing else, it's absolved me of the obligation to see terrible novels all the way to the bitter end. In terms of being impatient or frustrated, it puts those feelings into a context as well: 'I have some unexpected time because of this delay. Do I want to spend it fuming and fretting, or can I engage some other more productive use of it? At the very least, can I decide not to spend it being suffused with venomous feelings?'

You don't get to choose the relative impact of your words on other people. What I mean is, you can't make the happy loving comment of your best bright day more weighty to them than the annoyed short-tempered snap of your worst tired day. One of those can be the voice that echoes in their mind for the rest of their life; speak accordingly.

When I'm sad and feel needy, inevitably I can find an opportunity to do kindness to someone else and it always returns to me in blessings severalfold. It's superstition maybe, confirmation bias probably, and fanciful foolery of the most irrational and indulgent kind. I don't feel the need to read the ingredients label on magic. I delight in occasional irrationality as a choice. An it harm none, it's joyful.

Notice what people do that makes you feel loved and valued. Model your behavior on theirs. Do you know people who embody the qualities you seek? Ask them how they learned. They'll feel valued, and that's a kindness you give them.
posted by Lou Stuells at 2:52 AM on February 10, 2016 [9 favorites]

I'm not sure I'd call myself mature, but I'm much further along than I used to be. One thing that's helped me, more than you might think, is developing boring grown-up habits, like doing the dishes every night and hanging my coat up and eating fruit instead of cookies, and finding the internal motivation to do them for their own sake. Calvin's dad is my role model.

I find that daily upkeep of myself and my surroundings helps things run a little more smoothly, makes me better appreciate calm moments, and helps me feel more in control of my life. This isn't a magic formula for maturity, but it does spill over. It's sort of like cleaning your house before you leave on a vacation: you're about to go on a trip that will be interesting and tiring and a little unpredictable, and the return home may be rough, but when you get back to your base you have a pleasant, peaceful space to regroup.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:43 AM on February 10, 2016 [7 favorites]

I hate to be the person who answers "yoga" to every goddamn AskMe, but for real. Yoga changed my life.

One thing to know is that by even asking this question, you are already WAY ahead of a lot of people who would rather wallow in misery than undertake the uncertainty of change.

Yoga has taught me equanimity, being happy with where I am right now, letting go of the past and not runimating on an unwrittern future, empathy, how to come into every situation with a "nothing is wrong" mindset, learning how to step outside of my comfort zone so that I can continue to grow, learning that I have a choice in every matter (even if one of those choices is "do nothing"), learning to stop self-sabatoge. not to mention just normal boring tools to help me get through the stress of daily life.. I do not believe in god. I am not spiritual. Does the above paragraph mean I have all this shit figured out? Hell no. I'm going to be spending the rest of my life working on it. But working on it is so much better than not working on it.
posted by Brittanie at 4:04 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a very long history of people getting on my nerves. I'm not good at dealing with intrusive types (in terms of space or decibels), people who unasked-for (and often unwarranted) claim authority over me, people who let me wait, or who are unable to understand what I'm saying because they are unable to understand things. People who give me a hard time while not even remotely knowing anything about me. All that.

I have developed a simple formula for dealing with situations that involve such people. I imagine having to live their life, experience their everyday shit, look in the mirror and see their everyday face, etc.
Thinking in this fashion usually triggers at least some empathy for these people. It makes me grateful for what I've got, and helps me realise that if their noise (in the widest sense) gets on my nerves, how much worse it likely is for them. Happy humble feelings ensue.

This simple trick makes it also possible to single out the rather few people who really have rubbed me the wrong way, and who actually deserve a special place of Blah in my mind.

About insecure outcomes and accepting things like they are, there's nothing better than observation and analysis. For an example of the first category, my nervousness about traveling has declined over the years because I have learned about myself that I actually usually don't miss a plane; and the one time when I stood in Amsterdam and had to buy a new ticket for the last leg of my trip, I survived that, too.
And, to accept things like they are is a matter of first analysing which things actually can be changed, and then to ask oneself 'which of these things do I feel I absolutely need to try to change'? Just leave alone the rest.
Chance, fate, accidents, special sales at the wine store, and the weather don't fall under the category of things I can change, so why should I waste energy on thinking overly much about them (unless I actually like the feeling of griping about the weather, which has happened...)?
posted by Namlit at 5:19 AM on February 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Acceptance and insecure outcomes: read Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart. Changed my ability to practice and cultivate these skills profoundly.

Also: All of this has brought me face to face with my worst personality traits? These are everyone's problems, babe.
posted by listen, lady at 5:41 AM on February 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh, I have also spent a lot of time thinking about this Rumi text:

Your grief for what you’ve lost lifts a mirror
up to where you’re bravely working.
Expecting the worst, you look, and instead
here’s the joyful face you’ve been wanting to see.
Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you’d be paralyzed.
Your deepest presence is in every small contracting
and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
as bird wings.
posted by listen, lady at 5:44 AM on February 10, 2016 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Similar to Gusaroo, I went through a couple of years where my life was a country song: My dog died, my husband and I split up, I broke my leg in 25 places three weeks after moving alone into a third-story walkup, I had a disastrous affair with a longtime friend and lost the friendship, I had a house fire, and I had swine flu. I was 39 when it started.

Somewhere along the way, I began to think I was invincible. I'm 46 now, and of course I know I wasn't invincible. But that time has since made me adopt a new approach when things are really bad:

It'll either get better, or it won't.

This is so comforting to me because there's no uncertainty. There are only two outcomes, not an infinite number. It'll either go how I want it to, or it won't. I don't have to waste time worrying about failure, because I have failed, and I've recovered. I will either succeed or fail. Things will either turn out my way, or they won't. And I plan for both options. All bases covered.

Meditation helped. I joined a Hopkins study and learned how. This was my meditation passage. I still use it in times of anxiety. To me, the unity here refers to unity of self, unity of my mind, and unity with the larger world.

Finding Unity
Lao Tzu

Those who know do not speak;
Those who speak do not know.
Stop up the openings,
Close down the doors.
Rub off the sharp edges.
Unravel all confusion.
Harmonize the light.
Give up contention:
This is called finding the unity of life.

When love and hatred cannot affect you,
Profit and loss cannot touch you,
Praise and blame cannot ruffle you,
You are honored by all the world.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 7:46 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have some tenderness toward yourself. I was surprised reading old letters how sympathetic I felt toward my younger self - sure she screwed up, but she was doing her best, made reasonable decisions given what she knew, and was basically an okay person. And if dumbass twenty year old me was alright, fifteen years of growth and experience later I'm probably still doing okay. Just keep trying and learning.

I find Joan Didion's essay "On Self Respect" helpful, it has a Western take on accepting things as they are. Googling should bring it up, or it's in Slouching Towards Bethlehem.
posted by momus_window at 8:27 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I need this times a million right now. Thank you for asking it, and for all the answers.

I join you in the same struggle and appreciate the opportunity to share in the responses offered.

AskMe can truly be serendipitous at times.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:55 AM on February 10, 2016

Grace and maturity? It sounds like you're stressed because you're trying to just get by, and are confronted with obstacles and hassles sourced in people and processes that have the power to define your options (and outcomes). In that case, yeah of course you're going to feel angry and irritable and worried, that's legitimate. Age isn't so relevant then, imo, except inasmuch as it's another limiting factor and ramps up the stress and pressure. If your basic survival is at issue, yeah, of course you're going to be stressed (and possibly ungracious)!

I think the answers are the classic ones - either change the situation, if you have control over that, or your responses to it. I.e.

- Accept your reality and limitations (maybe let go of some dreams for now - hardest part!), account for these in a new adaptive strategy; try to find creative solutions to the problems at hand.
- Find new coping mechanisms. Humour, social support, and stress relief (mostly some kind of physical activity - boring, I know) help me.
- 2nd everything Metroid Baby said - getting the basics down is hugely important (I'm working on some of these, myself :/).

I too had a moment like Gusaroo, in which I lost everything. I also found that going that far off-script was indeed freeing in lots of ways. I also found that once I had new goals and a stake in particular outcomes, which involved the world of people (and the consequence of their opinions) - i.e. placed myself back in the game of life - the stress etc. came back. I think that's inevitable.

I'll say that having been so off-script and "off-schedule" for my peer group forced me to compare myself only to my own past self, and to think about what I really value and want to achieve and do. There was just no sense in comparing myself to people with 10-year careers involving progressive specialization, money, growth, and status, because that just wasn't my CV. So that helped me get down to brass tacks.

It also helped me to remember that, as is often said here, you can't compare your insides to people's outsides. You don't always know what people are actually dealing with, and odds are everyone will come up against some problem or other, over time. I do know from talking with friends who've had different trajectories, that no matter how people's lives turn out, there is always some source of unhappiness. Status and success don't always erase it, the problems are just different in nature; they can even amplify it.

Since it's true that we can't escape suffering or unhappiness no matter what we do, and that achieving societally endorsed milestones doesn't guarantee contentment (or grace), it only makes sense to try to be honest with yourself about your real needs, and to maximize your opportunities to meet them, to the extent you can. And to accept and adapt them, if you can't. (The most fundamental thing that matters is health - and we don't always have much control over that, either, though we can try to support it.)

Imo, a lot of people in their 50s+ have experienced and witnessed so many ups and downs, weathered so many storms, that they can't help but relinquish attachment. They see the sense in acceptance, because they've had to do it so many times. I'm not sure if it's possible to rush that experience.

(In answer to your question 3: it's a work in progress! I'm still stressed about achieving my goals. I'm not bitter or envious, however - I know that everyone is doing what they're able to do, given the cards they were dealt. I also came out of one experience that was so trying that I'm grateful for anything after it, i.e. at least I don't have that to worry about.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:07 AM on February 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

It'll either get better, or it won't.

My version of this is "Things will change, no matter what."
posted by listen, lady at 9:26 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure we older people are all that mature - we've just learned how to fake it better. :-)

I'm 55, and I don't consider myself all that mature. I've found that, over time, I've learned better coping strategies for dealing with some of my weaknesses and character quirks, and this has helped me function better in life.

I also figured out, some time ago, that the universe doesn't owe me anything. Stuff happens.

And I've always liked Joe Strummer's saying: "The future is unwritten."
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 12:30 PM on February 10, 2016

I find The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius to be a dose of clarity when things seem muddled.
posted by mmmbacon at 2:52 PM on February 10, 2016

Best answer: To put it sarcastically, I stopped giving a fuck. That doesn't mean I've gone full-on sullen teenager. I just seek validation within. Am I doing my best? If not, I forgive myself and move on. I expect nothing, from anyone (including my own family) and ask humbly if I need help. I try to maintain a view of the absurdity of it all, especially in relation to work. Finally, I take welbutrin and prozac to counteract all that anger and impatience that used to color everything. I'll be 45 in a week.
posted by wwartorff at 3:25 PM on February 10, 2016

« Older Am I too forgiving?   |   Inexpensive, high quality boxer briefs? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.