A Youthful Wisdom

It is not uncommon to hear me describe myself as an old lady. I'm the kind of gal who enjoys spending my evenings in the comfort of my home or in the intentional company of close friends, going to bed by 10pm (the earlier the better), and drinking a nice cup of herbal tea whilst reading my latest literary find (my current treasure: Rising Strong by Brené Brown; however, I do recommend any and all of her books). Although I can typically hold my own through a late night (unless provoked or hangry), I am not a night owl by any means. Did I mention I go to bed by 10pm?

I've had friends and acquaintances describe me as "mature for my age." Which can be true. And I must admit I take pride in that characteristic. Truth be told, I've spent quite a bit of time reminiscing on my awkward phase in life (i.e., the years between 3rd grade and....senior year of college; possibly even today, since I have the incredible knack of making any and every situation awkward). I have noticed a trend of immaturity in my actions, beliefs, and attitudes throughout the expanse of that awkward phase. As an effect, I've tried to grow up, for goodness sake. Make better choices. Don't be as obnoxious (if only my college freshman self could read this post...). Act older than your own age. So far, it's seemed to work. But let's put this post in a time capsule for 20 years and see what 42-year-old Leigh thinks.

In not so many words, I believed I needed to act like an adult; get my life together. Be meticulously mature, and life will sort itself out.

There's also a part of me that clicks with those younger than me. The highlight of my summer 2014 was spending copious amounts of time with my younger co-interns Anika and Austin, goofing around like little children, as well as jumping around on trampolines, bowling, and discussing high school life with the kids in my youth group. We all clicked so well, and it was such a joy acting younger than my age for a whole eight weeks. Truth be told, spending time with younger kids took a lot of the pressure of maturity off my shoulders. Although I was there to serve as a mentor, I took delight in relating to my high schoolers. I just had the requisite wisdom of a high school (and soon to be college) grad.

When I returned to Albuquerque after graduating this spring, I remember hashing out post-grad life with my closest friend from high school. We discussed who we were keeping in touch with, and I explained that many of my confidantes included girls along the spectrum of collegiate classes who I'd grown close with. In turn, she made a comment that initially bothered me. "You seem to bond better with girls younger than you." At the time, I perceived her comment to be a judgment on my maturity. If the majority of my social group is younger than me, then I must not be mature! I will honestly admit I ruminated on her comment for a good few days, and replied in defense of my maturity. "Oh, but I'm really close with all these people who are the same age as me!" 

But something curious happened yesterday. In the midst of a very atypical 48 hours, where I spontaneously went to a Florida Georgia Line concert with a complete stranger, stayed up way past my bedtime until 1am, and woke up 5 hours later for the Balloon Fiesta (okay, this might not sound outlandish to you, but for me...I just about never do anything as crazy as buy concert tickets 10 minutes before the concert starts), I came across a sign that seemed unexceptional at the time. As my parents, our family friends, and I biked our way out of the Fiesta grounds, we were stopped by a traffic controller who was allowing the chase vehicles back into the park to collect their landed balloons. As we waited for the go-ahead, I surveyed my surroundings and noticed a trailer with the phrase:

Growing old is inevitable, but growing up is optional.

Like I said, this sage proverb seemed unexceptional. I'd heard my dad say "Age is just a number!!!" about a million times throughout my lifetime. Okay, yeah, I get it.

After riding home and spending some last minutes with our family friends, I begrudgingly went off to work. Being extremely exhausted from a late night and early morning, I'll say I wasn't really having it. Work was the very last place I wanted to be after expending all of my social fuel. I was bitter that the four-letter word had stolen me from the warming rays beaming upon me as I sat on the front porch, reviewing the photos I'd taken that morning.

While at work, I encountered the sweetest little girl I think I have ever met. Let me preface this with a disclaimer: I am not the biggest fan of children. They typically persuade me to wait even longer to even consider thinking about maybe....conceivably having kids, and more often than not, I decide I really couldn't handle a child. But this girl was different. She was nothing short of incredible. Not much older than maybe six years old, she was so curious, so interested, so clever, so delightful. She reminded me of a kangaroo, bounding around the fitting rooms and store as I helped customers. She helped me find an array of clothing for the women with which I was working. She asked me question upon question upon question as I went about my work. Normally, I would think a questioning child would be annoying after about the fifth question. But the poise and curiosity with which she asked her questions was astounding. I could tell she was sharp and creative, the way she would contemplate my answers aloud and paint stories with her six-year-old vernacular. Our play continued the entire time she was in the store, and she made that hour fly. Her parents apologized for her constant questions and Energizer Bunny energy, but I saw her character as refreshing, for all too often I see children who are uninterested in anything rather than utterly fascinated by their surroundings. She approached her life like an adventurous explorer, searching the store for answers and excitement. I had to bite my tongue from asking her parents if I could adopt her right on the spot. I was smitten (and still am) with her boldness. As her father pointed out, she is unafraid to approach strangers like me and welcome them into her life. She was joyous.

I didn't quite put two and two together until I got home about four hours later. Call it coincidence, call it an aha moment, or call it a God moment, the happenings of my day served as an important reminder that age truly is just a number.

Many times we look at children as being too immature, too much to handle. But today prompted me to consider some of their greatest gifts: curiosity and energy. For the most part, children enjoy the heck out of their lives. They play, sing, dance, explore without a care in the world. Their imaginations are limitless. Think for a moment about some of the happiest times of your childhood. If they're anything like mine, they're filled with a playful narrative and eagerness to absorb all there is to know.

The little girl I played with yesterday gave me a sense of perspective on this "age is just a number" adage. Even though I am closing in on 23, I was able to approach my work with a sense of wonder, joy, and energy, solely influenced by the presence of a girl a quarter of my age. One of my favorite quotes comes from none other than a Yogi tea bag: "The purpose of life is to enjoy every moment." This young girl was certainly enjoying the heck out of her life, and it was inspiring to me. Instead of griping about spending her Saturday indoors with a bunch of adults trying on clothing, she was bounding around, excited to be where she was at the moment, making a game of finding that size 6 royal blue dress. I'm not saying life needs to be a game, but maybe we need to reconsider the importance of play and excitement in our lives.

Just think about it: when you are truly excited about something, whether it's an upcoming concert, trip, or night out with great friends, you are filled with excitement and joy. All too often we get bogged down by our adult lives: upcoming tests, a progress report, or a stressful project. I've had days filled with multiple job rejections that have depleted me of my sense of zest for life. But the promise of discovering the right path for my unique life and finding the place where work feels like play has kept me afloat. And besides, there is more to life than our careers and grades. I truly believe it is the moments of discovery and exploration - personal or worldly - that connects us to that inner child who innately desires the experience of joy and play. We can certainly reach that through an adjustment in perspective and attitude, as long as we remain eager for discovery.

With innocence comes curiosity, a desire to learn more and expand the depths of our understanding.

As we age, we tend to put off our curiosity. We've all heard the adage "Curiosity killed the cat." But if curiosity leads to creativity, where would we be without all of those who dared to allow their curiosity lead them to a great discovery? Brené Brown writes about curiosity in Rising Strong. Oftentimes, especially with emotions, we prohibit ourselves from emotional curiosity, from reckoning what is truly going on under the surface. I've heard time and again that age kills curiosity and that unique childlike wonder. If you think about it, it makes sense. Curiosity kills the proverbial cat because curiosity poses a risk to our sense of wellbeing. It can be painful to explore the painful emotions that arise after a heartbreak, a death, or a personal failure. We are taught to - ahem - conceal, don't feel the emotions and deeper grievances in our hearts because we've learned to avoid the hurt. As Brown states (quite adeptly) in Rising Strong, "Curiosity is a shit-starter." Please pardon my Français. But it is also "an act of vulnerability and courage... Getting curious about emotion is not always an easy choice." And her research clearly points toward leaning into this vulnerability and discomfort to living a wholehearted life.

I will not even pretend like I've got a handle on a curious approach to life; all too often I'm guilty of shutting down, becoming uninterested or detached before I can become threatened by acknowledging what's truly happening beyond the surface. Simply recognizing my tendency toward blunted affect brings to light the necessity to engage in curiosity, even if it is a shit starter. Because I realize (thanks to Brené) that I cannot begin to refine my life without going through the fire. James 1:2-4 serves as a comforting reminder that pain is indeed a byproduct of life, but that this discomfort leads to greater maturity:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

It's curious to me that approaching life with a childlike curiosity can lead to discomfort, but that the trials we face ultimately lead to maturity. Though they seem like night and day when juxtaposed, they are of the same essence that keeps us going. Neither can exist without the other, and they each encourage us to develop into who we are as we age.

With age comes wisdom, an effect of mistakes, trials, and the learning that occurs thereby.

Maturity is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon; it doesn't happen overnight. I touched on this in my comment about the time capsule earlier in this post. Rather than being either immature or mature, maturity accumulates as we go through the trials of our lives. For instance, I wouldn't have become wiser about handling conflict if I hadn't failed miserably at managing it and even burning several bridges completely to the ground over the course of my lifetime. Sometimes my curiosity has made a cat of me (thankfully I'm not dead), but has served as a means to becoming wiser about what actions to take and avoid in the future. If it weren't for the risk of curiosity, we wouldn't learn anything. Inevitably, we will look back on this day in a week, year, or decade and see our current selves as immature in some capacity. But we are all on a spectrum of maturity in each aspect of our lives that is unique to the circumstances we find ourselves in.

But maturity does not mean we need to approach life with a stodgy outlook. Sometimes when I think of maturity, I think of bland oatmeal. Like hey, I absolutely love oatmeal, but not when it's straight up oats. But maturity doesn't mean you need to cut out all the flavorful fun from your life! There's plenty of room for maple syrup, peanut butter, nuts, fruit, or whatever you like with your oatmeal. Maturity does not connote the absence of joy in a state of disconnect from youthful energy.

So, how do we live in a state of youthful wisdom? It seems so contradictory, and I've definitely spent a good chunk of time in the past day trying to make sense of it. For starters, I think one connection between the two is a willingness to learn. In our youth, we are keenly interested in learning new things; as a consequence, we automatically fall prey to failure, which in turn leads to wisdom and maturity. But the acquisition of maturity requires eagerness to continue learning, despite the trials we might encounter along the way. It is the tenacity with which we approach our self-actualization that allows us to live a wholehearted life, unencumbered by the fear of vulnerability and discomfort.

Living with youth also means finding joy in our circumstances (even though many children are wont to complain and cry, just like the rest of us). There are always opportunities to don our explorative garb and discover the joys in our lives, even in the midst of our trials. Just like climbing a mountain, there are times where the journey will be riveting and the scenery will bring immense joy to your life. There will also be moments where the river might be too high and you get swept away, only to learn to take a different path the next time. Even so, we can be grateful for the experience nonetheless, for in our mistakes we can acknowledge that there is joy in knowing the better path to take in the future, and that there is always opportunity for abounding curiosity that will lead us to the pinnacle of the mountain we are climbing.

I may be the girl who prefers a night in with my bed (aka bae) over a late night out, but that doesn't mean I can't find adventure by my own, unique means of curiosity. Find what lights your curiosity fire and keep at it, discovering new adventures along the way, and remaining unafraid to feel and experience your life deeply.

Until next time!