Maybe the problem is that we gave it a direction. Up. You cannot simply grow, you must grow up. Along with pencil notches on a door frame and candles on a cake, your wisdom and ferocity and velocity must increase as you age. You must fire on an expanding number of cylinders lest your life take on the sallow tinge of arrested development. Become sad, slow, behind. That’s how it feels sometimes to get older—like you’re only as good as your last achievement. Like detours are a distraction instead of the whole game.
But anyone who’s reached adulthood knows that growth doesn’t progress like a ticking clock. More often it means horrible missteps and innocence loss and broken zippers. It moves backwards, sideways, and inwards, finding new and rude ways to humble us. Most of the time, it feels good only in hindsight, like a hard run. And sometimes it doubles back on itself many times before it emerges as something remotely useful. And even then, we might forget what it taught us. Move back home, get lost, find ourselves, get lost again, be better for it. Ad infinitum.
We know all this intellectually—we’ve seen the cutesy line chart, the straight line representing “what people think success looks like,” the tangled mess of a line representing “what success really looks like.” But it’s different from knowing it in our bones. And aligning our senses of self to the inalienable truth that progress often means making a huge, disastrous mess.
Growing up. Can you grow down? Laterally? Can you regress and then grow as a direct result of that regression? Can you grow in a bad way? In the wrong way? Can you grow by learning, and then grow again by unlearning what you learned the first time? Are those both growth? Is my stiff chin hair growing up or growing to be a nuisance? Semi-unrelated, or isn’t it?
This month on Man Repeller, we’ll be diving into the complicated pool of human progress: Growing up. We’ll be exploring how it feels compared to how it looks, what it smells like, what it sounds like, why it never works the way we expect it to, and why that’s interesting. We’ll be talking about the upsides and the downsides and the hindsights, and the beauty of growing up over and over, regardless of your age. If there’s something you’d like to see us cover, or cover yourself, drop it in the comments below. And if you’ve never made a comment on Man Repeller, maybe this is your chance. It’d be kind of fitting, wouldn’t it?
Graphic by Dasha Faires; Photographed by Louisiana Mei Gelpi