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  • Writer's pictureMolly Schroeder, LMHC

What does it feel like to grow up?

It was recently brought to my attention that I am growing up.

Not in a condescending, pat-me-on-the-head way. But in a kind and insightful manner recognizing the progress I have made toward becoming the fulfilled, proud and contented adult that I have always wanted to be. Thank you to those who have noticed (my therapist obvi) – it has been a hell of a journey! And I’m not done yet…


Part of me thought I already was a grown-up. I mean, I can rent a car, I floss my teeth, I vote, and I have insurance. I even wear a blazer to work. How much more grown up can a person get?!

These details were not in my original vision of what type of adult I thought I would be – we all make concessions along the way. But I kind of figured that by the time I hit my 40’s, I would be an adult and I would have things figured out. Ha!

What I hadn’t anticipated was that the arbitrary checkpoints I passed over the years had absolutely nothing to do with growing up. Sure, I could go to a bar because society deemed me “old enough”, but those things have to do with age and not maturity. My mistake was assuming that the falling pages of my Snoopy calendar indicated I was growing UP, when in fact, I was just growing OLD.


How true I am finding this to be!

As I hurtle through time toward high waisted elastic pants and turtlenecks (and eventually my own mortality), I more clearly understand age to be a concept rather than a condemnation. Like every living being, I am physically aging, but how I interpret age has become more fluid. I have had to take on this perspective because time, age and mortality makes no sense to me! If any of this was clear, we wouldn’t dedicate so much time and effort into trying to understand it (I'm talking to you, religions of the world).

What I see on the outside is in no way a reflection of how I feel on the inside. Mother nature continues to ravage me, but somehow, I still feel like I am seventeen. I am the proud owner of crow’s feet, age spots and deeply etched smile lines. What a strange juxtaposition to the acne that still springs up on my chin. My parts don’t match, and it is confounding!

I am a mom. I am a partner. I am a business owner and licensed professional. I have to scroll for what feels like forever to reach my birth year during online registrations. Shouldn’t I feel like an adult? I’m checking all of the adult boxes, yet I still feel like a kid trapped in a middle-aged lady’s body. I must be missing something.

What I have been missing is maturity.

While my body has continued to grow and age, my mentality has not. I’m still coming at life from the perspective of a teenager. I have continued to view the world, myself and everyone else from the framework of a child. No wonder I can't seem to grasp the brass ring of adulting.

Does it look like that kid GAF?


That sounds really sad, I know. It was hard to admit! And I don’t I mean it in the traditional sense. You know the story – it’s in a million different films and we all love to see the popular bully jock get comeuppance at the 20 year reunion. I did not ‘peak’ in that manner. I have had many great success since then (but I'm not gonna brag!). What I mean is that my level of happiness peaked in high school.

Things felt good when I was seventeen! I had no responsibility, lots of social obligations. I could eat whatever I wanted and paid no attention to the news of the world. It was truly a carefree time for me, and I look back at that dumb girl with so much fondness (and cringe at her idiocy). I have been trying to recreate that feeling of happiness for decades.

THAT is the part that feels sad. I have wasted so much time thinking I was supposed to feel the way I felt as a child. Always searching for the same high and never understanding that as I got older, I was supposed to change – and change is GOOD. But I have been stunted.

While I don’t cling to the ‘glory days’ of my youth by regaling others with tales of my youthful achievements or hijinks, I just often find myself longing for the feeling of carefree happiness I had as a younger person. I deeply appreciate and long for the level of joy I possessed then, which I lost as I aged. It was a time of my life that I was safe enough to be my own, unique, outrageous self and that is the feeling I have spent decades trying to recapture.


Real talk?

I got my ass kicked by the 'real’ world.

I was completely unprepared for the harsh coldness of independence. For 17 years I lived in an accepting and tolerant environment, surrounded by familiarity and support. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, of course, but overall, my childhood was stable and categorized as ‘good’. By the time I graduated high school, I had life figured out and truly believed that I could do anything I set my mind to.

Wakeup call!

The rest of the world was not waiting to greet me with open arms. And I got hurt. The pain I experienced after I left home has stuck with me for decades. In fact, it would be categorized as ‘trauma’ and I recognize now that I have allowed those numerous traumatic events to color my view of the world and, more importantly, my view of self.

Moving from a rural, predominately white and Hispanic community in Southern Oregon to the more conservative, yet racially diverse Bible Belt of The South was an experience of culture shock I have never again been privy to. My liberal, west-coast hippie-girl vibe did not go over well, and I was immediately shut down. My religious beliefs, my burgeoning sexual awareness, my style, even my damn voice, was looked down upon with major judgment.

So, I learned to keep it all hidden. I just stuffed it all down deep, learned how to use a beer bong and binge eat and tried to create a new Molly that people would like and accept. I completely lost who I was and it has taken me decades to finally rediscover who I am, and most importantly, who I want to be moving forward.


Childhood can and should be filled with innocence and joy. Maybe you loved unicorns or Transformers, so you plastered your walls with pictures that brought you happiness and comfort. You painted rainbows and fantastical beasts all over your walls. But over time, you were told that these things are for children, and it is “time to grow up”. So, you paint over those colorful, joyful walls and donate your stuffed animals to Goodwill. It hurts, but we all accept that this is part of growing up.

But, even after years of life experiences, after the traumas, after the world chews you up a bit; the rainbows are still under the layers of paint. Growing up is the process of chipping away at that paint to find the pure, innocent, joyful parts of yourself that still exists and allowing those parts to come into view.

After decades (yes, decades) of holding back, of staying quiet, of tiptoeing, of fearing judgment from others, of judging myself - I am finally able to see who I want to be and I am working every single day, with every single choice I make, to become that person.

I will continue to chip away at the slate-grey walls I have painted over to expose the Rainbow Brite wallpaper beneath. I will kick ass while wearing my Punky Brewster sneakers and Wonder Woman underoos. Hell, maybe I’ll even suck my thumb as I lie in bed at night. I will rekindle childlike wonder at the world while still being a boss bitch. I will accept my age gracefully and I will live out loud with reckless abandon. I won’t be old and I won’t be young. I will aim to be truly, authentically, unapologetically MOLLY and even if some people don’t like her, I’m going to do it anyway.

THAT is what it means to be a grown-up.

Oh, the feel good vibes!

*What does aging mean to you? Please keep the idea flowing by commenting and conversing!*


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