I recently turned 25, which basically means I am 30, because as we learn in 5th grade, you round up from 5s. The more birthdays I celebrate, the further I push forward my definition of “old.” In my early teens, I decided I would turn adult when I began college. Free from parental guidance, I’d have no choice but to grow up. But then graduation rolled around Daytona 500 fast, and I felt ill-equipped to wear the cap. After I entered the “real world” surely I would feel old. Nope. And now here I am, four years removed from college, 30 by mathematical rounding standards, and yet just this month I purchased my first house plant. My parents gave me a food dehydrator and water filter for my birthday. That has to stand for something.
The word “grown-up” in itself is deceiving. It insinuates that there’s a distinct point in which one becomes an adult. As if some mystical creature waves her wand and all of sudden we transform from a child into a matured specimen.
In my adolescence, I thought by now I’d undoubtedly have my “adultness” on lockdown. A few things my teenage self anticipated I would have checked off by now:
-kids on the way
-owner of a home
-strong political and religious views
-lover of fine wine and cheese
Score for this list: 0 for 5, unless you count the green plant that I’m mothering.
Being an adult is a far murkier matter. There is no clear cut definition.
I used to feel weird about this grown-up thing. I haven’t done this, bought that, become this.
But I have always been certain of one fact: I wanted to be a professional soccer player when I grew up. Far before I knew its logistics as a career choice with foreign words like contracts, salaries, and sponsorships.
I watched the 1999 World Cup penalty shootout-Brandi Chastain tearing off her jersey after scoring the game-winner. I wanted that. Not the shirt ripping-off, that’s not my style. But everything else.
I wanted to make the National Team. To represent my country in a World Cup and Olympics. I wanted to win them both, and kiss the gold medal on the podium, listen to the national anthem and look out to my entire family in the stands.
I envisioned this scenario before society had a chance to chokehold my dreams and contort my brain into thinking maybe I wasn’t good enough. Before my friend’s parents asked me “what do you actually want to do with your life after soccer?” As if soccer was not going to be my job. It was too late for any of that. The seed was already planted in my head. Padlocked in a place no one could touch but me.
I was naive. I didn’t know you needed a certain amount of talent to play a sport at the highest level. My current ability was irrelevant. All that mattered was that I wanted to play soccer, therefore that’s what I was going to do.
I have never really cared much about what people think about me. I guess I care to an extent. When I was younger I left the house with a shirt on because my mom told me that’s what ladies are supposed to do. But I never brushed my hair. I was late to the game on shaving my legs, wearing mascara, and all other products intended to enhance aesthetics-with the exception of roll-on glitter, I was all about having a little sparkle in my life.
I knew what I wanted. Playing soccer ignited my soul. I didn’t concern myself with much else and turned a blind eye to anyone who inferred I should do otherwise.
I grabbed hold of this golden feeling and allowed it to guide me throughout my youth.
On my club team, I remember playing in a quarterfinal match against our local rivals. The opposing team scored the game winner with two minutes left in the game. Our coach brought us into a huddle to console us and chant the final obligatory “team name” cheer. After we all shouted “Sapphire!”, I overheard my teammates laughing and talking about going out to dinner at the pizza parlor. Pizza??? How on earth could you think about consuming pizza when we were just defeated mere minutes ago??
Blasphemy. I didn’t understand it.
Whenever we lost, my parents knew my red flag was activated: do not talk to me, unless I initiate the conversation.
I had this mentality throughout childhood. I just wanted to get better, and become more like Brandi Chastain, Mia Hamm, and Tiffany Millbrett. For me, it was all or nothing.
I never knew the exact steps I needed to take to get there. I relied on my intuition and trained the best I knew how. I practiced my juggling in the backyard. In middle school, I discovered the racquetball courts at the gym and I spent hours jamming to music and kicking against the wall. It just happened. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I knew my heart liked it. That I was in alignment with my vision of playing at the highest level.
I continued this attitude throughout college, onto the U-20 national team, and into the professional ranks. At a glance, it appears I have reached my dreams. Yet, I still haven’t played in a World Cup. I still have yet to win a professional championship. I still feel like I haven’t even tapped into my potential. I have more things I want to accomplish.
And here I am battling a concussion. Increasingly aware of how finite a professional athletic career is.
Will I get fully healthy? Is it time for me to grow up and get a “normal” job? Is this the time to throw in the towel?
It seems the older we get, the more we’re exposed to this dream-snatching vortex. The one where our parents, or teachers, or news reporters or friends say, “okay, enough is enough, it’s time to settle down and get your life sorted out.”
As children, we run around with our dreams like political campaigns, unafraid and eager to divulge them to anyone who will listen.
But each year, we have to stand on even firmer ground to protect them. Societal pressure is toxic. Like mosquitoes on a warm Southern night. If we don’t wear enough repellent, we’ll get bit with insecurity, our self-belief sucked away. With each bite, our dreams get called into question and tainted with doubt.
Eventually, we listen to the voice inside our heads that rationalizes maybe it is time to move on. We become too overwhelmed by the scrutiny (self-imposed or from peers). We cave in. And slowly but surely, the thing that once made our soul sparkle, our dream, fizzles away.
When did we confuse growing up with giving up?
There are some people who truly, circumstantially, despite how badly they want it, can’t pursue their dreams. But most of us don’t fall under that category.
Sometimes goals change. We realize that what we wanted in the past, truly doesn’t feed our soul anymore.
But I think a lot of times we give up because of fear.
Society has this stigma about audacious goals. If you say them out loud, then you are cocky or crazy, or both.
Big dreamers make people uncomfortable. They challenge mediocrity and cause others to examine their own dream-lost lives.
On the individual’s end, we often fear that if we vocalize our goal and don’t achieve it, then we are a fraud. A failure.
I wholeheartedly disagree.
Our worth as a human does not come from whether or not we achieve our goals.
I believe it’s cultivated through the pursuit. Through the lessons we learn from the triumphs, and, especially, the failures. Our value lies on who we become by going after things that genuinely fire us up.
It’s wildly more rewarding pursuing our true desires, than scraping by with a do “what you’re supposed to do” existence.
Even if at surface level it appears that I am further away from representing my country in a World Cup, or my other dreams, that doesn’t change the itch inside of me. The goosebumps I get when I look into the stands at Providence Park and see thousands of fans waving their scarfs during the national anthem.
That giddiness is inside all of us. It’s there for a reason. It’s a sign we are doing what we are meant to be doing. It gives us the juice-even when life isn’t going how we anticipated-to keep going. It affirms that the obstacles are all necessary teachers in our journey.
I believe this is what growing up is about. Relentlessly following that feeling. Going after our dreams. And not stopping at whatever arbitrary number society associates with the appropriate age to settle down.
Whether I am a wide-eyed 9 year-old watching the Olympics, a 25 year-old in the midst of a quarter-life crisis, or a 106 year-old with a walker, I will always have something that lights me up. My plan is to find it. Go after it. And not stop.
I will never grow up.