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When Are You Going To Grow Up?

by Dr. Ferne Cherne

Have you ever thought about that common childhood question? An oft-asked question answered by doctor, lawyer, Indian Chief. It implies there is a point in adulthood when one IS grown up. I remember thinking there was some magic point during adulthood when one knew all the important stuff. Except for things like utility bills and daily decisions there wouldn’t really be anything new. One would be “grown up.” During my master’s program in counseling in the 70’s, I asked my favorite professor, “Isn’t there a point when you choose which road to take and then proceed on it for the rest of your life?” I now grant him credit for his patience during that little walk of ours. He explained that there would always be forks in the road. One always had to decide to take the left fork or the right fork. This was the beginning of my realization that one never GROWS UP. Life is a continuous series of questions to be answered.

People no longer ask me what I am going to be when I grow up. I wish they would. I would tell them that I don’t know because I haven’t reached the end of my growth yet. I don’t think I will be GROWN UP until I die. Then on my tombstone they can put what I grew into before I died.

Growth is a continuous process, or it should be. If you are not growing, you are dying. Yet we label the stages of life, and use language that implies that at adulthood there is no more growth. We are GROWN- UPS. We have childhood and adolescence, which cover about 25 years. We have adulthood, which covers about 75 years. That doesn’t make sense. So far, being a GROWN-UP I have been single, married and divorced. I have been non risk-taking and risk-taking. I have valued status, power and recognition. I have devalued status, power, and recognition. All these phases and stages have been part of being GROWN UP.

I fear ever thinking I am GROWN UP for it might reflect stagnation and lack of continued growth. I have a need and desire to recapture the simple joys of childhood and retain the appreciation of a sunset and the pine trees outside my door. Does that mean I am retro-GROWN UP? Or a regressive GROWN-UP? Or do I now call it voluntary simplicity? I fear that being MATURE and GROWN UP means staying in a destructive work environment for the benefits or material gains rather than using my talents fully. Is that GROWN UP?

I have a dear friend who just retired and has 40 years in the same job. He’s proud of it. It scares the hell out of me. Who is GROWN UP? I want to stretch myself. I want to continuously meet new challenges. I want to learn more. I want to create and not regurgitate. I don’t want to know all the answers. I want to re-evaluate, and reorganize myself and my priorities as I continue self development.

I don’t want to be GROWN UP. I want to know that there could be a new vocation or avocation when I am 50 or 60 or 70. I don’t want to know what I will be when I am GROWN UP. I want to know I could join the Peace Corps at 70. Or study chimpanzees at 60. Or move to Alaska at 50. I don’t ever want to stop growing. Too bad no one asks anymore what I want to be when I grow up, because I would take a day and tell them.

Dr. Ferne Cherne, Portola, California


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