adulting from a compromised position


I’ve had my eye on a new t shirt that says “Wow, Look at me adulting all over the place.”


I am 58, and I am still impressed with myself when I am competently adulting. I’ve been described as the least mature person in our family. Which is kind of funny, except for the moments when it’s true.

Kate was born an adult and at 28, she’s pretty much on her way. She has a lifetime partner, she’s on her third city, and has navigated career challenges, disappointments and reroutes. She’s in grad school, and a year from now she will be married, an architect and a year younger than I was when I became her mom.

Alex is 22 and graduating from college in a few weeks. This last weekend she came home for a breather visit (you know, taking a few moments to breath, before your last sprint to the end). We sat at the dining room table and charted her next steps for Plan A and Plan B-ish, hopefully getting her to plan A with only a few extra turns.

As Steve and I coach both of our daughters, one thing that keeps coming up for me is the slippery slope of compromise.

As in, don’t go there just yet.

Which is confusing, since they know I value the art of compromise, and believe that compromise with grace, integrity and humor is the foundation of my marriage, my business, and any successes we have as a family. Learning how to give so everyone can experience what is important to them, without giving up what is most important to you, is tricky. Not giving up too much, too soon—balanced with genuinely wanting the best for others.

Compromise is how we get stuff done. Together. Which is important, right? And it’s a sign of adulting, which is a certainly a good thing.

So even I am conflicted when I hear myself saying, “Once you start to compromise, there’s no going back…stay on your own path right now, and there will be more than enough opportunities to compromise in the future.”

I’m talking about risks not taken, projects not pursued, dream adventures that are never realized. I know there’s plenty of adventure available for those of us in our fifties and sixties. But still…the twenties…this is when you have the least baggage, the most flexibility, and dreams are still in vibrant, flourescent, glow-in-the-dark color.

Compromise enables bills to be paid, commitments kept, scheduled maintained. Stability is achieved, stress is avoided, chaos averted and relationships can be nurtured. Steve and I recognized that between the two of us we can focus on three big things at a time. That means if we are particularly focused on work, and family issues, then we have room for one more challenge. Not two more, which would make it even, but one more, which means one of us is supporting while the other is doing (or we’re both doing, which would be the perfect case, but not usually the situation). It’s a system that works for us, but it’s taken 34 years to figure it out. Compromise means that not only are you responsible for your own baggage, sometimes you’re carrying the baggage of others, too.

I’ve encouraged Alex to keep on pushing for Plan A. It’s a big ask of the universe, but at 22 she is at the most agile point of her life. Plan B is good, but Plan C and D…well, that’s when you start to give in to the safe side. Pretty soon the not-exactly-right-job in the this-isn’t-what-I-imagined-town leads to choices that require compromise…those are usually the shiny choices that come with hefty price tags, that help one forget that there ever was a Plan A. New cars to get you to work, a closet full of capable clothes to help you survive work and expensive cocktails to help you forget about work. They’re all a sign of compromise. (I can also make a case that these are signs of success rather than compromise, but that’s another post all together.)

Compromise is why we landed in Sacramento, instead of San Francisco. Sacramento has been good for us, but I do have moments of wishing that thirty years ago I had a bigger vision for our future, that I had the confidence to make a leap, rather than a sensible step. I suspect I limited Steve’s career path, and perhaps my own, by not leaping all the way to the East Coast when our friends were also leaping. We compromised for stability. That’s not a judgement, just a fact.

If I made a list of what adulting means to me, I suspect “learning how to compromise gracefully” would be at the top. A 401k, limiting one’s weekday alcohol intake, flossing regularly (plus mammograms, colonoscopies, and daily sunscreen) would follow.

But just because I believe it, doesn’t mean I want my daughters to do it. At least not yet. Maybe tomorrow, but not quite yet. Flossing, however, is non negotiable.


One Comment

  1. It seems like you have figured out the right path for your family and really that’s all we can ask for. Learning when to compromise and when not too is something that takes years to finesse.

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