I started writing this blogpost the other night when I was pissed off. I’d had a bad day — my car had issues, all of which were due to someone else’s error but caused me a big headache, a family member is facing serious health problems, I’d had a day where things were not going my way and I was slammed with other people’s needs and struggles. Then, I came home to make dinner, listening to a podcast of Fresh Air Interview: First Reformed . Teri Gross interviewed Ethan Hawke, that actor who sort of is supposed to represent something of my Generation X. Reality Bites, etc. And he irritated me further, waxing ‘poetically’ about the questions this screenplay raised for him: What does it mean to be an adult? Am I supposed to be an adult? And I thought, “Fuck you, Ethan Hawke. I am an adult. I know what one is. And yes, you are supposed to be one.”

So I started writing a very snarky blog and I felt I deserved to write that snarky blog, because I’d had a bad week and also, lots of people like to read pissed off and snarky blogs.

But then, I sat on it for a couple days just out of sheer busy-ness. I was too distracted with life tasks to finish and when I went back to look, things felt a little different.

Sometimes, when you are upset, waiting to react to something takes a lot of courage. (In this case, it was not so much courage, but my ‘ego’ as I writer — I want my blogs or poetry or essays to say precisely what I want them to say). But let’s look at the big picture of waiting to react in general.

Lots of people tell me I am brave and strong. And the truth is, I have been through a number a pretty heightened experiences in my life, sadly, some of them very upsetting. But if I am strong or brave, I have to think it comes, in a large part, from my willingness to try different things and grow new emotional skills. And waiting…just giving your self time before you react to something is often one of the most important emotional skills we can develop.

So here are some emotional skills or ways of thinking that you might want to try — to practice — if you are suffering and in some part think you might need to be more of a grown up.

1) Distress Tolerance. This is what I’m talking about when I’m talking about waiting. This means that you will have to sit and wait with highly uncomfortable emotions like heartbreak, loneliness, fear and rage. It means not acting, screaming, drinking, fucking, or writing snarky blogs out of your reptilian brain’s need for relief and release. What do you do when you are tolerating your distress? Have a mental breakdown? No. I promise you won’t go crazy waiting. But whatever you do when you are simply re-acting, might cause a lot of craziness in your life. Not many people can just sit and meditate when they are distressed. It’s good to have a plan for more realistic options — you can call a friend who truly lifts you up. You breathe deeply. You imagine what it will be like when things are better in your life. You watch something funny on Netflix. You pray. And you wait it out, knowing and accepting that you are going to feel kind of rotten for an impermanent period of time. That doesn’t mean that you never do anything to stand up for yourself or blow off steam, but most people know when those actions are coming from the wise part of themselves and not the flailing mess part of themselves.

2) Practice being ok even if other people are upset with you. For the most part the people I surround myself with are highly responsible ‘fixer’ type people. Even my clients. If you are a highly responsible fixer, you ‘fix it’ whether it is trying to help the bagger at the grocery store with the bags, or make sure your spouse never has a moment of irritation. This is a nice quality, but can get totally out of balance and martyrs you. Practice more balanced thinking — is it realistic to think that nothing you do will ever be an inconvenience for anyone? No. Adult relationships are about give and take in balance.

3) Accept that suffering is a part of life. Every day is not going to be a good one. I listened to another interview on NPR this Spring — maybe a TED talk, where the interviewee said something like, ‘I have to remember that happiness is a mood. Happiness is just a mood like having a bad mood. It’s not a state of mind that you attain and stay in that place.” I’ve heard ‘contentment’ offered as a more realistic goal for our grown up emotional state.

4) Practice Radical Acceptance. What does it mean to ‘accept reality?’ It means being able to tell yourself hard truths without crumbling. Things like: I am dissatisfied in my marriage. Or, my spending is out of control and I don’t know how to stop. Or, I am jealous of my brother. Or, I’ve been a crappy parent. Or, I’ve surrounded myself with false friends. Or, I have hurt people I care about. Even good things may call for radical acceptance, i.e., I don’t have to worry about money anymore. Or, I am actually safe and cared for. We have unconscious thoughts that drive us because we have shame, guilt and fear around them. If we radically accept our lives and our truth, we reduce shame and create space to deal with our reality. And while reality may bite, not dealing with reality bites worse.

5) In all things, balance. In my snarky version of this blogpost, I’d written a number of things like “Your kids come first.” And, “Quit blaming other people for your problems.” And, “You don’t have to be perfect.” But when I look at these tidbits, I also think, “but sometimes…not.” Mostly, your kids should come first, but sometimes maybe not. Mostly you need to quit blaming others for your problems, but sometimes you need to acknowledge that wrong was done to you. And while you never have to be perfect, there are times of your life when your performance is meaningful. Those are just some examples. The grown up thought is this, “I have to use my best judgement.” Which means taking time to really think about all the circumstances surrounding a given situation.

(Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive list…just the ones coming to me today this week.)

I had a client who once pondered quitting drinking. She said, “Sometimes I wonder who I would be if I wasn’t Drunk Jennifer. Would people like me as much? Would I be not as fun?

When we think about growing up, acting like grown ups, I think many of us have a similar thought — “Will I not be fun?” “Will life be a long boring litany of ‘doing the right thing?’”

Yes! No! I don’t know!!!! Maybe?

Maybe there is some part of many of us that secretly, in our deepest hearts, would like someone else to come and take care of things for us. This is a time for radical acceptance. Ain’t no one going to take care of you but you. And when you look back on your life from your death bed, the fun times aren’t going to look like the ones where you were self-destructive or unkind or let yourself get treated badly.

I have another friend who has been sober for over 10 years. She is one of the wisest people I know and when she talks about the possibility that young people in her life — people she loves deeply — might one day walk the path of addiction too she says, “I am here to tell them that there is fun and hope and love and real connection on the other side.” This is what she has to offer.

One of my favorite books is The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Our hero, Nobody Owens, is a normal, but orphaned human boy being raised by the ghosts and one vampire, in an old graveyard in London. At the end of the book, he must go out on his own, no longer under the protection of the graveyard. He must join the living and live his grown up life. to go out on your own is scary sometimes and sometimes it is so raw and poignant it brings tears to my eyes. But that is the adventure and the promise of fully living your own life.

So go ahead.

Grow up.

Monsters, Inc. — Pixar