How to Grow Up

3 Lessons for Being a Better Adult

Hello friends and welcome back to Life Reimagined, a free weekly elixir designed to make you feel good and live better. A special welcome to the 132 new readers who joined in the last week.

🏠 I. How to Grow Up

I’m working on a compilation of helpful lessons for becoming a happier and more resilient adult. I’ll publish the full piece next week, but in the meantime, I wanted to share a preview of the ideas you’ll encounter.

1. Figure out What You Want

The big challenge of being an adult is to answer one question: What do I want?

Many people outsource the answer to this question. Instead of figuring out what they want, they drift in the comforting current of cultural gravity. This current takes their lives on paths that meet the expectations of their parents and garner adulation from others. Taking the default path works for some people, but it’s also a driver of midlife crises, regret, and existential frustration.

Some people do find the courage to try to figure out what they want. Sadly, embarking on this bold quest does not lead to immediate and enduring enlightenment or fulfillment. Unless you’re one of the lucky few people who knew from birth that they wanted to be a [musician, painter, entrepreneur, etc.], figuring out what you want is like going through a maze designed by an intelligent and evil being with an odd sense of humor.

As soon as you feel that you’ve figured everything out — that everything in life has finally come together — you run into a ten-headed, fire-breathing dragon who sends you in another direction. That dragon can be the unresolved traumas of your childhood, the devastation of unrequited love, direct confrontation with the fragility of life, or the many other wake-up calls that can send you into an emotional tailspin.

In all likelihood, you will never know or have exactly what you want. But if you can develop a thick skin and a sense of humor as you try to figure out the answer, you will at least get closer. And in doing so, you will avoid a slow and steady drift toward a life that is smaller than it has to be.

2. Say Sorry More Often

You will have conflicts with friends, family, and romantic partners. Maybe you messed up; maybe they messed up. In most cases, you’ll feel that they were the ones who messed up.

These conflicts will disturb you, inducing a frenzy of paralyzing regret, sleepless nights, and bursts of anger that you thought you left behind in childhood. Some conflicts will disturb you so much that you’ll be upset about just how disturbed you are.

You’re disturbed because you care. If you didn’t care, you would brush off the conflict and move on. And when you care about a relationship, the correct answer is almost always to apologize for any real or perceived wrongs that you’ve committed.

Apologizing can feel like an impossible task, especially when you think that you’re right. But part of growing up is learning that it does not matter who is right or who is responsible for the conflict. What matters is that you do everything you can to stop the bleeding when you care about someone. If you don’t, you or the other person will bleed out. And the relationship will die.

A heartfelt apology is an effective tourniquet that will allow you to stop the bleeding and begin the process of repair. To do it well, you must listen intently to the other person’s grievances, sincerely apologize for your role in those grievances, and commit to being better moving forward.

If you can manage to offer an apology like this, stop there. You have done your job. Do not try to get an apology from the other person or any recognition of their role in the conflict. That will only diminish the healing properties of your apology, making it feel conditional or disingenuous.

Next time you feel yourself teeming with frustration and angst about a quibble with a loved one, remember that a heartfelt apology can cure most wounds.

3. Make Integrity A Foundational Value

There are many values that you can adopt as an adult, but few should hold a higher position than integrity.

Integrity is simply doing what you say you’re going to do. 

If you tell a friend you will be at lunch at noon, show up at noon. When you tell your boss the presentation will be done by Friday, you deliver it on Friday. If you tell yourself you will work out today, you follow through.

Operating with integrity 100% of the time, instead of 70-80% of the time like many people, is the simplest shortcut for living a life where you respect yourself and are seen as dependable by others.

Of course, integrity will not solve all of your problems or prevent you from making mistakes. It’s more like a guardrail on a treacherous hike — it doesn’t prevent you from falling, but it does stop you from a fatal plunge into the abyss.

And as you pick yourself up from the many falls of life and figure out how to move forward, you will find comfort in knowing that you lived by your word.

🧠 II. Something I’m Thinking About

I love this mental exercise, and when I do it, I let the people I think about know that I appreciate them for the quality that comes to mind.

“When you need encouragement, think of the qualities of the people arond you have: this one’s energy, that one’s modesty, another’s generosity, and so on. Nothing is as encouraging as when virtues are visibly embodied in the people around us, when we’re practically showered with them.”

Marcus Aurelius in Meditations. Resurfaced using Readwise.

That's all for now. See you next Sunday.

— Cal

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