7 Questions That Measure Your Growth As An Adult

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How do you compare to the person you were ten, twenty, or thirty years ago? Are you kinder, braver, more principled? I’m fifty now, and those metrics matter to me. But that wasn’t always the case.

In my twenties, I lusted after money, job titles, and sex as trophies of a successful life. Those success criteria now seem laughable and childish. Yet, many of my peers still chase after the same cravings that drove them in their twenties. They’re frustrated with life. They feel left behind even though they’re rich. They’re aggrieved despite being blessed and privileged.

That’s what happens when you live a life without growth. You look to the same shallow fixes to subdue your cravings, reaching a point where you seek out more money, a flashier car, a hotter partner, knowing it will bring you only a fleeting sense of pleasure or satisfaction.

Chasing those glimpses of happiness will exhaust you.

So, what’s the alternative? How can we measure our progress as we trek through life? We need to measure ourselves against the proper criteria.

These questions, answered monthly, serve as an effective tool for self-assessment:

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1. Are you slightly embarrassed by your past?

I did a lot of stupid things as a teenager, even as a twenty-something. I dished out mean jibes, believed in nonsense, and disregarded common sense. But I’ve come to accept that embarrassment over my past is a good thing. It means I’ve learned from my experiences, gained perspective, and matured.

You don’t get to that point by chance. You must be vulnerable enough to examine your past objectively and open-minded enough to accept fault or responsibility for past deeds, missteps, and hurtful words.

It’s challenging at first, but soon, you’ll realize that examining your past makes you wiser, more empathetic, and more forgiving.

2. How have you failed lately, and who’s to blame?

We mostly think of failure as an undesirable result stemming from a venture with an unknown outcome. Going bankrupt from starting a new business is a typical example.

But that’s only half of the failure equation.

We also fail when we let fear prevent us from ever trying in the first place. If you’re up for a promotion but refuse to apply because you’re afraid they may say no, that too results in failure.

Sometimes we don’t succeed in our efforts. Other times, we don’t even bother putting forth the effort. We’re all guilty of both types of failure. How you deal with it determines your growth trajectory in life. Typically, we look to blame undesirable results on external factors.

My competitors ganged up on me.
She made it difficult to be a good boyfriend.

When we neglect to even try, we turn to vague, abstract excuses.

My head wasn’t in the right place.
The timing wasn’t right.

Sometimes, you do indeed fail for reasons outside your control. But even in those situations, you can glean a lesson from your experience if you take responsibility for the outcome.

Perhaps you listened to the wrong people. If that’s the case, you used poor judgment. In many situations, you will have to accept that you were just too afraid to take action. When you face that truth head-on, you’re more likely to act braver and more thoughtful the next time around.

3. Have you revisited or at least challenged a deeply held belief?

A former college friend recently posted on social media that he will never get the Covid vaccine, fearing that anything “medical” promoted by the government would result in bodily harm.

When pressed to answer why he believed that, he wrote:

That’s how my parents raised me.

Laughable? Sad? Pathetic? Take your pick.

Many of our deeply held beliefs as adults stem from the teachings of mommy and daddy. They may have meant well, but no matter how much they love you, they may lead you astray with misguided advice, ignorance, and even hate.

My parents started me in religious education at an early age. I’m not sure how much I ever believed in it, but by the time I had graduated from college, I fully embraced atheism. That experience instilled a valuable habit of questioning deeply held beliefs and thinking for myself.

Sure, it’s scary when some of your sacred ideals prove false. Your worldview changes. We call that growing up. Don’t fear it.

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4. Have you been mostly selfless and rarely selfish?

My two sons battle over the television remote every weekend. Each of them demands possession to control what they watch. Yes, it’s our job as parents to teach them to share, and we’ve had varied success.

Kids are often selfish, but most will grow out of that phase by the time they’re teenagers (fingers crossed). Even with solid parenting and role models, some adults still demand complete control of the remote.

They do what’s best for them and them alone. They don’t care about their neighbors, community, or the world at large. They’ll walk into a Walmart with a 102 fever and a cough because they’re out of jellybeans, not caring if they infect anyone else.

We’re all a little bit selfish at times, but those of us who’ve grown up become more aware of how our actions can impact others, more concerned about the world we leave behind, and more committed to selflessness over selfishness.

5. Have you been a sore loser or snotty winner?

My semi-competitive teenage tennis career ended after throwing a temper tantrum during the second half of a match I eventually lost. At the match’s conclusion, I threw my racket, accused my opponent of cheating, and launched into a tirade.

I vowed never to play again and stuck to that pledge for twenty years.

Like most adults, I grew out of the sore loser phase. A combination of social pressure and maturity motivates most of us to demonstrate reasonable decorum. Sure, sore-loser adults do exist, and in my experience, they also tend to be snotty-winners.

They’ll say something like this:

Nice game. I’m surprised I won. I played like shit.

It’s a way of saying they’re better than you even when they’re at their worst. Sportsmanship is a sign of adultness. It matters in athletics, business, and life. A real winner demonstrates their greatness without making subtle digs at their opponents.

6. Did you choose your principles over peace?

One of the most important actions I took in my forties was to define a set of personal principles. That was the easy part. Anyone can create a personal code of ethics, but the challenge lies in living by them when it’s easier to look the other way.

When someone challenges our principles, we often choose peace. We don’t want to cause a stir, so we pretend not to hear that hateful comment, or we feign ignorance when our intervention might invite ridicule or repudiation.

Choosing principles over peace takes you beyond normal grown-up behavior. It sets you apart as one of the great ones. Creating a set of personal principles and defending them demands effort and commitment. It’ll make you and others uncomfortable. That’s why it’s so much easier to look the other way.

7. Have you challenged groupthink?

The older I’ve gotten, the more importance I’ve attached to humanity’s most essential freedom, one that has all but vanished from American society. It’s the freedom to think for oneself.

Almost everyone has surrendered it voluntarily. Instead of thinking for ourselves, we outsource original thought to celebrities and false pundits. We no longer form opinions; we absorb them.

Groupthink is a phenomenon in which the desire for harmony or conformity in a group supersedes rational decision-making. Most folks who fall for it don’t even realize it. That’s why it’s crucial to keep this question on your radar. Challenging groupthink has become an essential tool in our quest to become and remain functional adults.

Nobody achieves perfection. I still miss the mark on some of these questions, and I’m fifty years old. Real growth hinges on a commitment to doing better each day.

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Barry Davret is a writer who focuses on personal growth. He has been featured in Elemental, Forge, Medium, The Startup, Ladders, The Good Men Project, and more. Follow him on Twitter.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.