it seems that when we reach a certain age in life we expect, and people expect of us, to just know what to do with ourselves. we go to school, get the degree, get the job, move out into the world and then…what? we checked all the boxes, so why are we struggling so much?
what our culture doesn’t talk about, nearly at all it seems, is that most people have no idea what they’re doing most of the time. i’ve fallen prey to the belief that i’m supposed to just know what to do, which is breeding ground for shame and keeps us lost in the silence of our hearts, afraid to reach out for support and guidance as we grow more fully into adults.
we all need guidance throughout our twenties, thirties, forties, and on and on. we need elders to tell us what we can expect, people who can reassure us that what we’re feeling (namely, the experience of being utterly clueless about how to get on with life) is completely normal. one of my aunts, now in her seventies, said to me many years back as i was really struggling with this very topic something along the lines of, “it’s not that you know more when you get older. it’s just that you get used to not knowing.”
and isn’t that the heart of the struggle? the fight against what’s normal and natural: the inherent uncertainty that comes with being human. our inability to tell the future pushes up against the illusion that such a picture exists. when we’re younger, it’s easy to buy into the belief that all these older people just somehow get something we don’t: they’ve managed to figure life out to a certain degree. they’ve managed to find peace in the chaos. they’ve managed to cross the threshold and have remained intact psychologically, spiritually, emotionally.
this is an illusion. the people who seem so grounded in life are probably those that struggled severely at least once along the way. they’re the folks that have met their demons and befriended them. there’s some kind of magic that happens when we’re not afraid of ourselves. but how do we get there? where’s the map? why isn’t anyone pointing the way? why isn’t anyone even talking about this?
and that brings me back to my original thought: we need guidance as we grow up. the invitation comes when there’s an inner agitation that isn’t easily explained. when we’re cranky for no apparent reason. when we picks fights with our loved ones because arguing feels good. when we fantasize about breaking furniture with an unspeakable rage or throw away everything we own and live in an empty room for a period of time. THIS IS NORMAL. when i speak about growing up, what i refer to mostly is to detach from our ego and live from a place of self acceptance, self love, and mostly, self responsibility. we make it our job to care for ourselves, just like a parent makes it her or his job to take care of her or his child(ren). yes, there’s support involved, but ultimately the parents carries the brunt of the job.
but to get there, we need to tell people we don’t know what we’re doing so we can remove the veil of inadequacy and allow ourselves to flounder. i long to live in a tribal culture where the guidance is handed down in an almost annoying fashion; at least then there wouldn’t be the shame of being clueless that prevents so many people from asking, the silence resulting in anxiety, depression, stagnation, addiction.
i’m not entirely sure what i’m getting at with all of this. i suppose, more than anything, i want those of you struggling with ‘growing up’ (which, really, is a rather vague and loaded phrase) to know you’re okay. this period of darkness or confusion or stuckness won’t last forever. sometimes there’s nothing you have to do other than create space for whatever it is that’s shifting inside you. there’s nothing to figure out or know. as Rilke says, the answers will come as we live the questions.