I think the best part about growing up is recognizing change in yourself.
It's somehow both thrilling and grounding to experience random life moments that make you step back and observe just how different you've become.
I feel like I've been doing this a lot lately. It can happen during small moments such as a catch-up phone call from an old high school sweetheart or big moments like passing your two-year anniversary from college graduation.
To that end, I truly believe that a main life goal for every individual should not simply be to change, but to better oneself in the process. But it's hard. It's oftentimes much easier to adapt to your shortcomings and bad habits than it is to fix them.
A former shortcoming that I've struggled with is control. My parents divorced when I was young and all I've known is a single-parent household. My mom worked hellish hours and as a result, I had little choice but to grow up faster than my friends. I remember doing the laundry at the age of 9 and was cooking dinner by the age of 12. (But before you paint me as a poor Cinderella, I definitely played just as hard as the other kids in my neighborhood. I rarely missed marathon games of Capture the Flag and threw snowballs at cars with the best of them. I had as much fun, but simply more responsibilities than my carefree peers.) I assume that because my mom relied so heavily on me at times, it created in me a deep-seeded craving for perfectionism. For a while, I was all she had and I therefore felt I had to be The Perfect Daughter to compensate.
This perfectionist streak can at times be a positive thing. I tend to excel at whatever I put my mind to and rarely settle for less than the best in both myself and others. But when not kept in check, this need for control can, in turn, control me.
It ran rampant my very last semester of college. My entire life as I'd known it was changing and I felt lost. I felt like my big, scary grownup future was out of my hands and the only way to make myself feel better was to minutely control the comfortable (but fleeting) life I had. So I made perfect grades. And when I wasn't in class, I helped edit our alumni magazine and
was a reporter for our campus TV station. I volunteered. I nannied for the cutest family ever. I headed up several campus organizations, including one that required I sometimes travel with the baseball team. I exercised religiously. I strived to be a true friend to my sorority sisters and a supportive, amazing girlfriend to an overwhelmed law student.
I tried to be everything to everybody and lost myself in the process. By the time graduation rolled around, I was exhausted. The day I walked in my cap and gown, I weighed less than 100 pounds. I had no hint of a disorder; it just proved impossible to eat enough to keep up with my hectic lifestyle.
Graduation came and went and I was left with mere shards of the "perfect" life I'd created for myself. College was over and it stung to realize that nothing I achieved there meant anything further than excellent resume material. I was jobless, homeless and directionless and for the first time in my life, I had to learn to let go and accept the unknown. It was either that, or drive myself slowly insane.
So I did. I woke up one morning and decided that life could be simpler and much more enjoyable if I adopted the attitude that everything eventually works out for the best. I won't lie, it's definitely been an uphill battle. But now that I'm finally reaching the peak, I look back and marvel on just how far I've come...on how much more I love myself now that I'm not taking her so seriously.
I still backpedal occasionally. Last night, my normal mature self slipped and I acted embarrassingly childish. I proved far less than perfect and as a result, I spent an hour and a half of my evening running at full speed on the treadmill. I didn't stop until my t-shirt dripped and my mind went blank.
The difference between now and college is that I can instantly recognize this kind of behavior for what it is before it takes over. The very moment I stepped off the treadmill, I laughed inwardly at myself. I knew in an instant that because I'd felt imperfect and lacked control, I exerted ultimate control over my body by pushing it to the limit. But in that moment, with both my heartbeat and Michael Jackson ringing in my ears, I chose to feel exhilarated rather than turbulent.
I see positive change in myself, which must mean I'm growing up. I can honestly say that I'm a better person today than I was two years ago as I fell unbelievably short of my superhuman goals. And I hope that two years from now, I can look back at this very post and recognize how much progress I've made to becoming the person I want to be.
It's taken awhile, but I've finally grasped that that person, that ideal girl, will never be perfect. She'll be warm and caring, generous and inclusive, good natured and laid back. But she'll still sometimes say the wrong things and laugh at inappropriate moments. She'll still be a messy eater and a sucker for a dare. She'll still be snarky and, at times, brutally honest.
And hell, if she just so happens to have fantastic legs due to frustrated miles logged on the treadmill as she learned to accept herself, that would be a major bonus.