New Perspectives: A Senior Moment – “WHEN IS GRADUATION?”

May and June have traditionally held the promise of graduation—from Georgian College, from high schools across Bruce and Grey Counties and for many of our older elementary students. While the pandemic certainly messed up that ritual and disappointed all those pupils who eagerly anticipated their special day, better times surely lie ahead.

Have you ever considered another type of graduation, this one being the transition from adolescent to adult? Although various faith and cultural traditions hold “rites of passage” ceremonies, in the secular world there is no one “special day.” Physical maturation is programmed to start when those hormones kick in. But psychological and emotional maturation is not set by a biological clock. Using the seasons of the year as a metaphor, I understand maturity as occurring when I move beyond the “spring” of immature, dependent youthfulness into the mature “summer” years of my productive, independent adulthood.

Becoming “mature” is an evolving process over years. During both my personal and professional life, I have recognized three characteristics of personality maturation, or as the Apostle Paul once said: “—when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Here are my milestones to determine when one has psychologically grown up:

SELF-CONTROL: Current debate is focused on the growing realization that much delinquent behaviour by young people is a result of their not yet developing sufficient self-discipline. How many times do we read about someone of basically sound character who impulsively crossed that line between right and wrong behaviour? Science is discovering that a youthful and immature teen brain can sometimes fail to comprehend consequences of bad choices.

Self-control means resisting impulsive behaviours or words that could lead to misfortune. This is not as simple as it might sound. Have we never struggled against those diet-destroying, second desserts or reaching for that nerve-soothing cigarette? How about those hurtful comments which can fly out of our mouths before we could clamp our lips shut? The ability to postpone immediate gratification for the longer-term satisfaction of some higher, more rewarding goal is a mark of maturity. By that score, perhaps we are all still a work in progress!

SELF-ACCEPTANCE: For many of us, this measurement will hit closer to home. Outwardly, we conform to societal expectations of behaviour; inwardly we remain unhappy and dissatisfied with who we are. We yearn to be different—to be better, to change our appearance, transform our personality or rearrange our place in the world. While self-improvement is always a valid life goal, an unwillingness to accept our basic self can put us on the path to chronic unhappiness.

Being able to come to terms of accepting who we are (or how God has made us) can result in a sense of inner peace. In the counselling office, I quietly rejoiced whenever a client was able to conclude: “I am now ok with who I am”. Often, that insight came when they were able to set aside pejorative labels or excessive, unrealistic expectations pinned on them by others, usually parents, but sometimes by spouses, coaches, religious leaders, advertising or other significant influencers.

SELF-GIVING: Narcissists remain immature. They are driven to always satisfy their own needs and wants ahead of the needs and wants of others. While the infamous psychopathic personality may be the most blatant example of that personality type, one can encounter a narcissist at any social gathering. He or she needs to be the centre of attention. Once the conversation shifts elsewhere, he or she strives to return to the spotlight with a louder voice or more dramatic body language.

The self-centred person finds it “unnatural” to give rather than to receive. To give time and attention to another is a foreign concept. One can certainly fake it but the effort is forced. The self-giving person sees a need and moves to meet that need, often at some sacrifice—of time, of energy, of sleep. Who gets up with the crying toddler at 2 am? Who sets aside their need to attend a social gathering because a partner is tired and has a greater need to enjoy a quiet evening at home? I hasten to add that this “greater need” does shift back and forth in nurturing relationships. Recently, I have been more on the receiving end of caring and support, a welcome and needed change from my professional life as a “giver.”

Unlike the one-time-only celebratory rituals of a Saugeen District Secondary School Graduation, the upward climb from the spring of youthful life to the summer of adult maturity never happens in one time and place. It is a life-long process of discovering our potential and real self, the “I am” patiently waiting to be found.