There was no fanfare, no pomp and circumstance (though that will come in a few weeks), just me, walking out alone into a chilly damp evening. And just like that, it was over. After a little over two years, I had completed the schooling for my masters in Mental Health Counseling.
I walked out of my last class with a huge sense of nostalgia, I looked around, soaking in a view I would likely never see again; for there will never be a reason to return to this campus, at least not as a student. I couldn’t help but get a little teary eyed. I recalled walking in on my first day so eager and excited, understanding that I was doing something big, something important, something lifechanging. Now, that was done, the transformation was complete! Yet, I didn’t feel a change.
What I felt was significantly humbler then when I had reached every other educational milestone in my life.
High School graduation, I was 17. This felt HUGE, and I’m not selling it short, it was! I was finally an “adult.” I had goals, dreams, and no sense of urgency to complete them. As I drove myself home following that ceremony, I tossed the cap into the back seat, manually rolled down my window (because, you know, first car), cranked up Oasis’s Wonderwall (it was the 90’s…), and lit a cigarette. I felt so mature and so experienced, like, voila, adulthood! Like all teens, I was naïve.
College graduation, I was 21. NOW, this adulthood thing was getting real!! I still had plans and they were taking a more solid form. My next moves in life were all laid out in front of me and the path was as clear and bright as the yellow brick road. I lived in the big city, albeit with my parents because who can afford to live on their own after graduation, but I could come and go as I pleased or even stay out all night if I fancied. I was a grown woman after all.
Graduate School graduation, I was 24. Almost my mid-twenties, so now I was a full-fledged adult with a masters and a career! I had a job and an apartment. I paid my own bills and made dinner every night that was eaten from actual plates. I lived with my boyfriend and only true grownups cohabitate with their boyfriend, right?! This was real adulting. I had finally reached the peak of the growth cycle.
Then came the next 15 years.
I was hit with the reality of the real world like a wrecking ball to the face. Many amazing things happened, and yet, so many more terrible things happened too. Realizing that I wasn’t even half the adult that I thought I was, was an incredibly hard pill to swallow. And for someone who never shied away from swallowing a pill that was offered, this realization was almost unbearable and insurmountable. With each graduation milestone, I felt like it was finally time to become, time to meet those goals, and attain that adult status. However, I never could. I always felt one rung short of completion, like I was hovering just below the surface and couldn’t figure out how break through. Despite getting married, having children, acquiring a mortgage, and doing all of the things “real adults” seemed to do, my growth as a person, as an individual, had stalled somewhere between listening to Wonderwall and eating dinner on actual plates.
This graduation, at 39, feels significant and important in a different way then all of the others. It feels like I am finally blossoming into the person I knew I could always be, but never knew how to be. I have finally lived enough to understand that we don’t simply grow up and, presto chango, the process is complete. No, true growth is a constant process. It ebbs and flows from moment to moment and most often occurs when we least expect it and aren’t even trying.
It comes in the little moments of sheer joy when hearing your baby say her first words or watching him take his first step.
It comes in the tragic, heartbreaking moments of despair, when you believe life will never be ok again.
It comes from moments of anger, feeling brave enough to express it or safe enough to simply let it go and move on.
It’s there when you land your first job, but also when you get fired from that very same job.
It happens when you take a risk, but also when you just play it safe.
It happens over dinner with girlfriends, dates with your husband, and coffee with a colleague.
That time you dropped a quarter into a homeless man’s cup, that was growth.
Growth comes even when you’re sitting on your couch binge watching Netflix all day because you don’t feel up to doing anything else. In that moment, you have recognized that that is all you’re capable of today, and that’s OK!!!
Growth happens every day, all day, as long as you’re open to it.
Three years ago, I began a journey to remake myself. I shed off my cocoon of alcoholism and became a sober butterfly. In that process I decided to return to school and fulfill a life-long dream of becoming a therapist. That portion of my journey is now complete. However, unlike previous graduations, I don’t feel that my growth is over. In fact, it’s the opposite, my growth is still happening every day, because I am finally ready for it.