Unexpectedly great things about being a grown-up

Our culture and perhaps even our friends and family consistently remind us that there are drawbacks to aging. It’s a scary thing, sometimes, to realize that your childhood is behind you and you’re officially a grown-up. Your friends are getting married and having kids, and it’s a lot to handle. But even though the idea of aging is scary, it also comes with some real benefits: wisdom from experience, acceptance, and greater knowledge of what we represent and what we want to bring to this world.

For me, growing older has been a mixed bag. Your responsibilities have changed, and you don’t have as much time as you used to. But there are highs when you realize that helping someone else really is the greatest source of personal satisfaction you can get. There are some things—from the mundane to the monumental—that have truly surprised me about being a full-blown adult. And they are awesome.

Things that used to be a total pain seem way easier

Take flossing, for example. I remember dreading dentists’ appointments because, well, let’s just say my flossing regimen was slightly below par. My teeth never bothered me, I rarely thought about it, and after a long day of working (or a late night out),the last extra thing I wanted to do after brushing was flossing. So, the six-month cycle of guilt persisted.

Now, I can’t stand to have not flossed my teeth at least once daily. At some point doing things that were slightly annoying but ultimately good for me became way less of a hassle. Which is great for both me and my dentist.

You realize you don’t have to be perfect for your friends to love you (or to host them)

I used to spend an entire weekend day, from sun-up to guests’ arrival, spot checking every square inch of my house before a guest came over: rubbing down baseboards, foam spraying fabric chairs, wiping dust off of towel racks, and making myself insane. The sum total of this meant I rarely invited people over. It caused too much pain. But I began to realize that if someone was examining my baseboards instead of enjoying my company, we probably weren’t meant to be. Life is made up of a finite number of positive interactions, and we all deserve some more, period. The people that care about us won’t stop because everything isn’t spic and span.

You realize that everything passes, and good things will come around again

I used to think terrible things—illness, a bad breakup, a tough job—were forever, and this was the state of my life. When you are a little bit older, time moves more quickly. So as you sit within the periods that are less than ideal, you sigh and realize this is a passing state. You know this because you have passed through these before, and good times did follow. Your repeated survival is solid proof that you will survive again.

You know what your weaknesses are, and you are shockingly okay with them

As you get older, you are not afraid to say to yourself and others, “I’m not good at. . .” in a matter-of-fact way. You know that you can’t be perfect and amazing at everything, and you can look at a friend or a coworker and say, “Since this is a strength of yours…” and move forward together. You know you kick tail at some other hugely important things, and that’s awesome. Keep doing those things.

You’re learning to better accept your body, and yourself

I used to exercise to try to drop a size. Then, I realized that didn’t actually work for me (since I like food), so I ran to reduce my times in races. That wasn’t much fun. Now, I exercise to keep my core strong to avoid hurting my back. I lift so I can…lift. I do cardio so the endorphins run like liquid gold, benefiting my family and students with a calmer, more peaceful, more pleasant version of myself.  I like being strong, in balance, and regularly taking deep breaths. There are some good side effects, for sure. But that will never get me out of bed at 4:45 in the morning. Being my best each day does.

You understand your parents in a whole different way

I realize all families are different, and we all walk different paths. But one of the nice things about getting older is that you see your parents in a whole new light: Not just as the adults that helped you through childhood, but as people who faced similar struggles. It’s a nice feeling.

You learn what actually makes you happy

A month-long trip to Europe is really nice. So is a red sports car or a diamond ring. But, if you open your eyes, you experience profound moments of pure bliss in the most unexpected times and places: the “in-between” moments that, all added up, are called “life.” You realize that the things that make you happy aren’t material: They’re the people in your life.

See? Getting older isn’t so bad. In fact, it’s pretty great.

Kathryn McCalla is a teacher, wedding officiant, mother, wife, and writer living and loving life in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her passions include circuit class with her incredible pals and attending her breakfast book club. 

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