One of our goals here at Modern Ratio is to help others “grow up” and “mature”—because that’s something that we’ve struggled with ourselves, and in some ways continue to struggle with even to this day. Style, beauty, grooming, and all that other stuff? They’re just different ways to express ourselves as we develop into well-rounded, confident people.
But that raises a big question: What does it mean to “grow up”? What exactly is “maturity” and why is it so important? Is it really wrong to be “immature”? Let’s explore what all of this means, starting with some misconceptions about maturity and why people tend to get overly defensive when this topic is strung upon them.
What Maturity Isn’t
Some people see the world as comprised of two buckets: the Child bucket which contains the interests, activities, and temperaments that are strictly “for kids,” and the Adult bucket which contains all the stuff that “grown-ups” are supposed to do. To them, maturity means leaving behind the Child bucket and graduating to the Adult bucket.
Video games, comic books, anime and cartoons, amusement parks, trick-or-treating are just some examples of “immature” things. Getting married, buying a car, buying a house, updating your wardrobe, listening to jazz and classical music are for the “mature.”
But maturity isn’t what you do. Maturity is how you do what you do.
People who see the world as Child and Adult buckets are looking at outward signs (the things you do) to conclude an inward state (your maturity level). They have it backwards. Just because someone has a job, pays the bills, and signed on the dotted line for a new McMansion says nothing about their maturity level. I’m sure you know plenty of folks who do all of those things yet still make your eyes roll at their juvenile attitudes.
On the other hand, it’s entirely possible to play video games and read comic books and watch Netflix in a mature way. I’m sure you know plenty of those kinds of folks, too.
Maturity is a mindset. You can do anything with maturity, you can do anything with immaturity. It goes deeper than what you do; it’s about how you view and approach the things you do. This inward state affects the expression of your outward signs.
The Three Pillars of True Maturity
If maturity is a mindset, what does that mindset entail? Instead of listing off a bunch of trite characteristics like “be patient” or “be selfless,” I think it’s more helpful to nail down three distinct principles that inform a mature mindset:
- Knowing your priorities and living by them
- Understanding that change is necessary for growth
- Accepting responsibility and consequences for your actions
Let’s look at them one by one.
Pillar #1: Maturity Begins With Your Priorities
The worst thing you can do is live your life aimlessly. A dream, a goal, a vision, a mission—call it whatever you want, but you need one (or more) to live a happy, productive, fulfilling, mature life. These dreams, goals, visions, and missions inform your priorities in life, and it’s up to you to not only figure out what they are but arrange them in order of importance.
Priorities could include: being a great father, mother, and/or spouse; devoting yourself to what you believe; serving your community and those in need; progressing in your career or starting your own business; establishing and deepening relationships; learning to be unhinged from material possessions; seeing as much of the world as you can during this life. Some priorities are more mature than others, of course. Generally speaking, priorities that involve personal sacrifice to some degree tend to be more mature as seen by society—sacrificing your own wants for the good of strangers is noble, sacrificing your personal desires for the sake of your family is virtuous, sacrificing your present impulses for greater future gain is responsible, etc.
I’m not here to dictate what your priorities should be; rather, I’m here to remind you that you need to have priorities, you need to honestly contemplate them and order them by how important they are to you, and then you need to live your life by those priorities. Without that last part, you will never be truly mature—hence why this is the first pillar.
Let’s take a mundane example: Suppose Adam’s priority is to become a New York Times best-selling novelist, but he never takes time out of his day to write, he never invests in his writing skills, he doesn’t care to interact and build relationships with other writers. All he does is daydream about one day reaching that goal. Is that mature? No. Suppose Billy wants to secure a future for his newborn child, but blows his paychecks on booze and video games. Is that mature? Of course not. Suppose Chuck believes in charity and good will as virtues, but hoards all of his money to himself. Mature? Absolutely not.
Maturity starts with having personal beliefs, convictions, objectives, ambitions—and then living life day-to-day in accordance with them.
Pillar #2: Change Is Necessary for Growth
“This too shall pass.”Persian proverb
I hate cliche adages as much as the next guy, but cliches become cliches because they are rooted in truth—and this one is as true as it gets. The only constant in life is change, and one of the main elements of maturity is coming to terms with this second pillar.
In fact, think about what maturity literally means. We use it to describe how animals, plants, and lifeforms go through physiological changes, starting from birth, to adolescence, to adulthood, to old age, to death. We use it to describe how new technology evolves from a state of instability and unreliability to a state of robust dependability. We even use it as a financial term, describing the final state of a loan.
Maturity is rooted in the concept of change, which implies that change is necessary for growth. A child must change—physically, emotionally, mentally—in order to eventually become an adult. That’s what maturity literally means. A child who doesn’t change at all will always remain a child. Which is why this is the second pillar of maturity.
Maturity means two things: first, there are aspects of yourself that you will need to change in order to live by your priorities, and second, your priorities may change over the course of your life and that’s OK.
Pillar #3: You Aren’t Perfect, Take Responsibility
This final pillar may just be the most important one.
Because here’s the rub: we’re all human, we all make mistakes. You aren’t always going to live by your priorities as intended, and you may not have your priorities ordered in the right way, and you probably won’t adapt without messing something up even as your priorities change.
The maturing process doesn’t only require change, but it requires mistakes. Show me someone who has never made a mistake and I’ll show you someone who has never grown. In some strangely poetic way, it’s because we’re imperfect that we can grow. After all, someone who’s already perfect has no need for growth. Recognizing that you will make mistakes is one of the most important first steps toward true maturity.
But even more important is learning from your mistakes—and in order to learn from them, you have to accept responsibility for them. Of course, sometimes things will go wrong beyond our control, but we have to be honest with ourselves: most of the time there is something we could have done differently, and that’s what we need to see and acknowledge. Once you can admit that you played a part in whatever went wrong, you gain experience and wisdom and the ability to take a different route next time. This is what we call growth.
If you can’t do this, you will never mature. It’s as simple as that.
We might say that maturity is seeing the world as it really is and living our lives accordingly. The more we see and the more we experience, the more we change and the more we grow. This then feeds back on itself, enabling us to see even more and experience even more. It’s this cycle that leads us to greater levels of maturity, and it’s the interruption of this cycle that results in perpetual immaturity.