On Adulting: A Mission to Unlearn

“Emotional.”

As women, we’ve heard that word often uttered with judgment or paternalistic benevolence. We choose early where we’ll fall on the spectrum. Some figured out balance and went on to live well-adjusted long lives. Others overindulged, while I personally went the other way, the repressed way.

Emotions are those things that you simply can’t warn children about. Until they experience them in a complete, vulnerable way, they will not grasp or appreciate any forewarning. The way they learn about them at the initial stage is by picking up clues, here and there, every interaction, every scene, like tiny detectives.

Throughout the years, I managed to convince myself of a few things about emotions. First, that I completely chose when and what to feel about something. Then, that feelings made you vulnerable, and to be vulnerable was to be weak. Lastly, that captaining (noun. word for always having to be someone’s hero. See save-a-hoe) was the deepest form of love.

This year has called into question many of my assumptions about existence, emotions, and ecology. Adulting is hard. We often joke that we got swindled into desperately desiring to grow up, when we were still unable to spell B-I-L-L.

There’s a lot that they didn’t tell us we would have to learn. How to have a successful phone interaction with administrative offices? How to demand your first raise? How many different on-a-budget potato dishes could one come up with the last couple days before payday?

More importantly though, one thing that only our personal experiences of adulting could teach us, was just how much we would have to unlearn.

From building relationships centered around validation and approval-seeking to defining real success through the world’s standards, in order to move forward successfully, many of us realize we must shed notions that we picked up along the way as we journeyed to the sought-after destination of Independence.

What is Unlearning?

Are you ever sure of something? Like you know know. Maybe it’s something that happened in your past, or your understanding of a phenomenon, or your feelings about somebody. Things that you are so sure about, you feel confident and safe enough to build your outlook on life around?

What would happen if you came to find out that you were fundamentally wrong about that thing? What if some new data came to your attention that had the potential to transform how you feel and what you know about that thing you’re so certain of?

For some of us, doubling down is the answer. Maybe because we’re so sure about our certainty about that thing. It must be right since it’s been right for so long or given so many others believe it to be right. Whatever the reason, we must resist.

Other times, maybe due to the irrefutable character of the evidence, or the correct timing,  we cave, and go down the process of unlearning. The procedure of examining the underlying assumptions of our beliefs, critically analyzing the surrounding ecology of ideas and actions, and surrendering to a revived, more complete understanding of the world around and within us.

Unlearning Means Sacrificing Certainty

The world is not black-and-white is as much a cliché as is it true. However, we don’t tend to comfortably take the seat of uncertainty. Instead, we associate certainty with security. We demand it in our relationships, in our career choices, from the universe or whatever higher being we endorse. But are they really interchangeable?

We simultaneously hold the understanding that our path could be changed from one single decision. An educated guess is, after all, still a gamble. Deep down, we know we ultimately hold the right and power to stop, start, wait, and any other new action in between.

But how do you establish a life based, not on the things that you know for a fact are true, but on the foggy puzzle that lays in between? Why not just continue to believe the things we always have, or that have been passed on through generations, without question or doubt? What’s the harm in that?

Why Unlearn?

At the beginning of this year I was convinced to try a new understanding of my emotions instead of smuggling the jumble that they are through the easily-accessible ones such as anger, joy, anger, disappointment, anger, and excitement. Did I mention anger?

The journey began through accepting the fact that the chemistry within me was the same as anyone else, therefore I couldn’t be immune to the whirl of emotions. I was maybe only too used to ignoring them in favor of the right thing to think, accomplish, or say.

As the winds of life mold us, we get lost on the stage, playing whatever roles offered on the scripts printed all around us. We get lost in the roles we imagine others expect us to play. The more rebellious ones take on the anti-roles of those roles. And the more talented, like I believed myself to be, we settle gracefully in the roles we fooled ourselves into believing we were not playing.

Unlearning is an advanced form of learning, which kicks-off on the basis of the knowledge and beliefs that you’ve accumulated. It forces you to go back to the roots of your comprehension and to ask the questions that frighten you the most. Those that threaten to unravel the carefully produced tapestry of your life.  

Beliefs inform actions, other beliefs, and a sense of self and community. Therefore, unlearning beliefs that are harmful, doubtful, and/or overall deleterious to any necessary metamorphosis into the better versions of us is worth going beyond the mental barriers of confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance.

If the assumptions upon which we base our beliefs are false, illogical, or harmful, we run the risk of cascading actions, beliefs, behaviors, and habits without even a notice, let alone proper examination. We may even develop an entire conception of ourselves that causes a ringing dissonance with who we really are. One that we can only allow ourselves to quasi-ignore until it fully makes its presence known.

Adulting, to me, means the dual sense of being and becoming: alive, confident, true, affirming, and decisive. One of the things I learned this year was that emotions are a vibrant, authentic, and inescapable part of life. If you want the good ones, you’ll have to learn to deal and process what you need from the bad ones. But if you’re going to be alive, might as well explore it in your fullness, in all its beauty, incongruity, terror, and pleasure.

I’d  describe the events of this year as life-changing. The fruits of which have enriched many other aspects of my life. Only one question remains, what else is there to unlearn?

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