grown-ups

When I was in fifth grade I wore my purple glitter pants at least once a week. This is because they were the most beautiful item of clothing I could imagine, and I wore them not only to school but also to church and other occasions I considered “dressy”. I remember making a resolution to never stop wearing purple glitter pants, even though I noticed that none of the adults around me wore any such thing. Adults, I knew, were silly to only wear boring clothes.

And I was right. What I didn’t quite understand then, but see very clearly now, is that our boring definition of professional clothing actually comes from a very childlike need to play a role. Everyone feels comfortable and secure in a societal order that helps us distinguish on sight what kind of person we are meeting, so if we meet someone wearing clothes that are neither comfortable nor practical nor very fun we know they are a “professional”. It is one of the most obvious and unbreakable markers of class in the 21st century – people who work in offices still wear clothing that makes other (“worse”) jobs impossible.

12 years after fifth grade, I have entered a peculiar time of life. As my housemate exclaimed, upon sitting at his very own desk at work for the first time, “This is a pivotal adulthood moment!”

Yes, I have a real J-O-B, 32+ hours a week combining
a) food pantry/Sunday breakfast/neighborhood outreach and
b) finding ways, including said area service opportunities, to start filling the gaping void in church participation left by conspicuously absent students and young adults.

These responsibilities mean that for the first time, I have a “professional life”. I do not work solely with people my own age, and my success is not measured by my ability to meet a teacher’s standards. Rather, I am the youngest by far of the people I collaborate with during the workday, and my success (defined in various ways) in starting a new ministry is under scrutiny by my boss, my service program director, my committee, the church board, my coworkers, etc. etc. As it should be – a lot of people took a great many risks to invest time, effort and dolla bills in my new job position and new ministry project. Although I was hired in part because only a young person can do this job, I think I can safely say I am under more pressure to look and act like a capable adult than the average “intern” – and would be even if I didn’t look a few years younger than I am*.
*I’m not bitter.

The past two weeks I’ve begun learning to navigate my job, experienced the joys of a neverending e-mail stream, and met a truly overwhelming number of new people with whom I will be working in various capacities. And among so many first impressions and real responsibilities, I no longer wonder how one becomes a “boring adult”. The role suddenly seems easy and comfortable – fit in, fit in, fit in, my insecure ego demands.

And yet as much as I care about my job, as much as I understand about first impressions and want to act responsibly, I also don’t want to do things to fit in. If people dismiss me for cracking jokes in meetings, throwing paper balls at trash cans, or sitting on stair railings, do I really care about their opinions? Or is it possible my work can speak for itself?

The book I read a few weeks ago, Love Does, is furiously making the rounds among Christian people these days. I think a lot of people are taking a lot of things away from it, but I loved it for reminding me what is possible. The author, Bob Goff, “spent 16 days in the Pacific Ocean with five guys and a crate of canned meat. As a father he took his kids on a world tour to eat ice cream with heads of state. He made friends in Uganda, and they liked him so much he became the Ugandan consul. He pursued his wife for three years before she agreed to date him. His grades weren’t good enough to get into law school, so he sat on a bench outside the Dean’s office for seven days until they finally let him enroll.”* He also drives a bright blue motorcycle with a sidecar sometimes; his business card just says “Helper”; and his personal phone number is in the back of the book, in case you need him for anything.
* from the book jacket.

He uses the word “whimsy” so many times it’s a little sickening, but he has a point – the world needs more whimsy. The world loves him for being novel. And that’s not to say he doesn’t know how to be a “boring adult”. But wisdom is knowing when to button down, and when it’s not at all important to be taken seriously. And it’s knowing that nonconformism for its own sake is self-indulgent and adolescent, but novelty for the sake of love and laughter can be life-giving in a world where routine and busyness and economy are so often oppressive.

So if you spy, beneath my work slacks, a pair of purple glitter socks, you can just wink at me to let me know you are on board with this whole notion of “enjoying life”. Or you can judge me for it, but if I find out I’ll secretly judge you right back, I’ll put a boring black-and-white labelmaker label on your forehead and it will say “insecure about things that actually matter”.

Then I’ll send you some glitter socks. You were deprived as a child, I’m sure.

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5 Comments

  1. Jacqueline in Atlanta

     /  September 13, 2012

    This is why older woman wear weird clothes and join the red hat club. They get past caring. They quit competing with each other after menopause and embrace each other instead. It’s called real friendship. It just takes a long freakin’ time after high school for most gals to find it.

    Reply
  2. I think it’s fantastic that you’re wearing glittery socks (and that you once wore glittery pants) and I think that new-job transition & fear is something we reprise every time we start afresh. But (at the ripe old age of 27), I’m becoming more and more willing to just be me. Grown-up, but not boring. (although some days I AM boring and that is also okay.)

    Also, your review of Love Does has made me finally want to read it. I’ve been resisting the hype.

    Reply
  3. dave

     /  September 15, 2012

    iremember those pants. And in hindsight its probably because I saw you in them so much.
    The world is never changed by those who want to fit in.

    Reply

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