“What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are—underneath the year that makes you eleven.”
from “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros
I felt like a grown up last week. I had a new experience – hosting a leadership conference – and it went well. It made me feel the accumulated confidence of my experience. It helped me to recognize my capability and to be gratified by the opportunity to express it in a useful way; in a way that helped others gain more from the conference than they might otherwise have done. At least that’s what many people told me.
In that moment of feeling “grown up” – like how Doug Silsbee so artfully uses the metaphor of a massive dragon tail as a “felt sense of fundamental sufficiency” – I recognized how often it is that I don’t feel that way. I recognized how often it is that younger versions of me – the uncertain 23-year old, the confused 10-year old, the insecure 35-year old, the playfully confident 16-year old, the naively curious 5-year old – emerge and express themselves. And why shouldn’t they? I’ve been all of those ages much longer than I’ve been 43. Those patterns, expressions, beliefs and behaviors are well-practiced and well-worn. They just aren’t definitive. As the next layer forms the previous one is flattened out, diminished by the weight of what’s next.
I’d like to feel grown up more often but I have no desire to forget the best parts of being 23, 35, 16 and 5. I want to hold onto the value of uncertainty, embrace the questions of confusion, wrestle with the insecurity of new experience, relish in the playfulness of confident presence and learn with the naive fervor of an innocent child.
The story is still being written, as long as it is. I bring all of it with me.
All of it.