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Growth in adulthood off autopilot

There is a significant amount of time in childhood where growth is on autopilot. Reflecting on a 20-something Magazine article where the author points out the stages of growth from children to adulthood, there is a clear distinction between the amount of growth in childhood, the amount and type of growth in adolescence and then adulthood.

Once a person reaches about age 25, there is a significant drop-off in the amount of automatic learning that takes place. This isn’t to say learning and growth stop. It just means adulthood is the time when growth stops becoming automatic and starts becoming self-sustaining.

Every person develops a similar base of knowledge from school and then a variety of different knowledge based on home life and how one was brought up. Adolescence is the time when one uses that knowledge to develop their place in the world and discover who they want to be. It is an awkward time because you aren’t exactly sure how to use that knowledge and apply it to life, but by the time you become an adult and have mostly figured it out, it continues to be a constant evolution of the self.

Adults actually have to work to grow. Adults actually have to be cognizant of the choices they make and how they affect their present and future, as well as other’s present and future.

As a 26-year-old, I look back on my teenage years and think to myself, “How stupid was I back then?” My stepdad, in his 40s, says the same thing about his 20s. Learning and growing never stops whether one is aware it’s happening or not, but effective growth in the direction of the person you want to be is something generated by the individual.

Planning doesn’t work in life because the future is unclear, but I do think to myself sometimes, “If I met myself in my 40s, would I be satisfied with what I am doing? Would I be satisfied I am making the right choices to become a better person and reach my goals?”

This is why teaching adults or college students can be more complex than teaching children. In elementary and middle school, teachers advise — beyond the lesson plans — on how to deal with conflict, how to be kind to your neighbor, work together and share. In college, students already mastered these skills, and the important messages are how to apply them into adult life and carry them into the world to make it a better place. College professors have a responsibility to help students figure out where they place in greater society, which can be a loftier task.

It’s important to keep in mind personal growth is just that. It’s personal. Each individual has a different path with different goals. And while it’s great to take advice and learn from others, it’s all about how you apply it to your life and your goals. Fit what you learn into your life and what you want to accomplish. And recognize no one has all the answers and you never will. Growth is a constant study in learning and growing.

When I’m in my 80s, I will most certainly look back on my 60s and think to myself, “How stupid was I back then?”

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