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Today I had an incredibly insightful conversation with some dear friends. One of those conversations that you know is going to be good, and you go along for the ride, and then when it’s over and you’re riding your bicycle home in the cold wind you realize how incredibly amazing it actually was kind of insightful.

I don’t care to divulge the subject matter out of respect for all involved. The topics are not what is important. What is important is the knowledge I gained.

Namely this: I am a grown-up.

I know! Well, actually, I had NO idea I was a grown-up!

For many years, I’ve always felt older than I am. I was, as a child, much more interested in what the adults were discussing, always wanted to sit at the adults table for meals and card games, read adult novels and magazines (not that kind of adult, just not children’s magazines), and generally carried myself as I thought a grown-up me would.

But I wasn’t a grown-up. I was kid, acting like a grown-up (and not always a good one).

As I grew older, I spent more time around younger children as a mentor and camp counselor. I longed for that innocence, that wisdom which can only spring through naivete, that care-free sense of self that allows authenticity to shine. I struggled with how to become more child-like while maintaining myself as an “adult.” When really, I was neither child nor adult. I was in-between (now commonly referred to as “tween,” a word I abhor for it’s sounding like a put-down of a very tender age group).

I did everything “early” for my age: went to college at 16, graduate at 20, almost got married at 17, among other things unmentioned. I often felt (and stated) that I thought my life was in “fast-forward” mode, and that somehow I was behind and needed to catch-up. Desperately needed to catch up.

Almost four years ago, I moved to Wisconsin. I was really on my own for the first time, responsible for things like my groceries and rent and a job and a social life (I did these things in college, too, but I didn’t really have a huge social life, and I often worked places where there was food available if I was desperate. Oh, and I had student loans to pay for things). For the first time, I felt alone, like I was starting from scratch, even though I had a community of friends (many of whom later turned away from me and were not true friends) and wasn’t really worried about things. I struggled that first year, without a doubt. But it seemed like, once I found a full-time job, I got into the swing of it. I was “doing” life.

Then I had to move, and find a new apartment and a new set of friends. I was living on a food budget of $10 a week (mostly rice and beans from the bulk section of the co-op, and discounted produce) and spent most of my evenings watching movies rented for free from the public library. I didn’t have much money, but I was happy. Until I started dating someone (much too soon after the end of the previous relationship). For the first few months I got disoriented, not knowing how to have a healthy relationship (and ultimately not having a healthy relationship). But we managed, and stuck it out, and got into our own patterns and routines. I was “doing” life again, this time with a 5-year-old step-daughter and a full-time “partner.”

Several visits from the police later, I ended that relationship. I swore I was going to spend some time alone. I had a well-paying full-time job, but was by no means flush with income. I got a cat (well, we got each other). I was back to library movies and rice and beans (though with a bit of fresh produce, this time). I was happy, and content.

Then I went on a date. Which rapidly (within 5 days) went to being in a relationship. Which was really a re-bound relationship (and not fair to either party involved, especially not the other person). Which turned into pretty much living together, and then actually living together (within the first four months). Which ended. Poorly. (For both parties involved.)

Which brought me to the time of losing my job, giving up my apartment, moving in with a friend, struggling (still) to find work, to discovering my dreams, following my bliss, and being ready to sell everything to fund my passions.

Which is now. Which brings me to today, and the incredibly insightful conversation.

I’m sitting with two dear friends whom I’ve known since moving to Wisconsin. We’re sipping tea from small ceramic cups and lounging on low benches and chattering about. And I feel that something is different. The three of us haven’t gotten together in months, and so many things have happened in each of our lives that is new and different, and yet we connect as though there is no time like now. And we’re talking about plans, and current life events, and changes, and family, and people we know, and suddenly I realize:

I’m a grown-up. We’re all grown-ups here. This is a meeting of equals.

I should clarify that my tea was shared today by people whom I have always considered to be teachers first, and friends second. I’ve never felt “beneath” them, but there has always been (and this has always come from me, never them) a feeling that I’m not-quite-cool-enough to be considered an equal. That was different today.

I know I’ve matured over the last six months, in many ways the most I’ve matured in my life. I know I’ve become a stronger, stranger, funnier person, more light-hearted, more determined, more willing to look at what I want and not fret over what I don’t have.

I’ve grown up.

Today was the first time (perhaps ever) that I have felt like a grown-up. I felt comfortable in my skin, not like I was acting. I felt confident that I was with people who love me and honor the uniqueness of me, and who aren’t going to judge me. People I want to surround myself with. People I see as role-models for being a “grown-up” me.

Today I laughed, and spoke openly about my struggles, and lit up with passion about my dreams. I was frank, honest, and a little silly. I didn’t discount the possibility of anything. I didn’t act the way I thought they wanted me to act. I didn’t act at all.

I just was. Just a grown-up. Just me.

This might seem like no small matter to you, but for me — someone who has acted her whole life, always playing a role, always putting on a show, never being just her in her own skin, this is huge. This is earth-shattering (in a very non-melodramatic way). This is the new, improved Grown-Up me.

And I couldn’t be more excited.

Welcome to me, World. Be prepared to be amazed.

PS: Thanks to many of you, I’ve raised over $120 towards funding my dreams through the sale of my books. If you haven’t checked out the list, please do. And check back regularly, as I am continually culling my collection and adding to the items for sale!