Shouldn’t I Be Well-Adjusted By Now? - Christine Kane

“Shouldn’t I be well-adjusted by now?”

This question was posed to me recently by Vanessa, one of my Platinum-Level coaching clients. It was said (mostly) in jest, as she faced some fear and very real excitement about a new business opportunity and all the things it triggered inside of her.

Her question is loaded.

Here’s just a small list of the other questions contained within it:

“Isn’t there an age at which I should stop growing, trying, expanding, risking… living?”

“Aren’t other woman done with fear and uncertainty by the time they’re, say, 40?”

“Shouldn’t my emotions have shut down by now?”

“Shouldn’t I feel ashamed for not having it all figured out?”

“Wouldn’t it be better if I just stayed put and did what was expected of me?”

“Appropriate women plan their lives so they can retire in Boca and play golf, don’t they?”

“Shouldn’t I avoid this discomfort in favor of fitting in?”

“Don’t normal people stop trying new things at a certain point?”

“Shouldn’t I have control over, say, everything by now?”


Well, I’ll tell you what.

This blog has lots of very wise readers. I’m just going to invite these wise wise women to answer or just add their thoughts about Vanessa’s question – cuz I’m really really curious.

  • Claire

    Gosh, you have great self-esteem! If I were her coach and she had addressed the question to me, I would have immediately thought she meant, “After all the money I’ve spent for your services, shouldn’t I be fixed by now?!” I would have immediately thought she meant I was some how at fault and had failed her.

  • Angela

    Can so relate to many of the comments here. I’m retraining (at 46) for yet another career (due to illness) and I remember a conversation I had with a professor a while ago where I was feeling that I should have my act together by now .. he turned to me and said “Angela everyone has unfinished stuff – unfinished issues” It was so liberating to hear that and I remember it whenever I think about the fact that this isn’t how I planned to live my life at this time and age – things happen and we grow …

  • Suzanna Di Milo

    I injured my foot when I was a child, most of the time my foot doesn’t hurt, but sometimes, if I am not careful, or there is alot of rain it really hurts for a while.

    Just because I am in my forties, my foot doesn’t miraculously heal, I still have to be careful with it, and not aggrivate it too much. When it hurts, i take care of myself, do things that ease the pain, knowing that in time, the pain will cease and I will be free again.

    So what does my foot have to do with being forty and resolving my problems?

    We all have human parents, some of us suffer in our childhoods. I sometimes get to thinking Shouldn’t I be over my childhood by now? Shouldn’t I be a strong, loving woman with high self esteem after all my therapy, self help reading and hard work? After all that I should have “sorted” things or “got over it now”

    Sometimes my gremlin tells me “told you it did not work, you are right back where you started!” In a really high pitched whiny voice!

    Those thoughts may lead me to feel a failure if the same issue comes round again. So not only do I have to have the same issue, but I also load on the guilt for “not sorting it” or “not getting over it”.

    So instead I like to think of my rejection sensitivity is something that happens now and then, just like my foot. It hurts, sometimes it really really hurts, I need to give myself tender care for a while, nurture myself and know that the pain will ease, in time.

    Maybe it will happen again, and maybe it won’t, who knows? It doesn’t mean I have failed.

    It might not be something that works for others, but for me it helps.

    with love

  • Susan

    …..just so wonderful to come to your blog and share in the world of creative journeys with so many amazing people.

    Thanks for the wisdom, Christine:)

  • Sam

    so here is my question: By age whatever, just what is it that you think you should have figured out? I am 55, still feel fear and uncertainty, but also feel the joy of stepping out of my comfort zone. Scary, but exciting at the same time.
    As for the should have’s, I grew up with the phrase;”You should be ashamed of yourself” Hmmm. Should I? Or better yet, might I just enjoy who I am and what I have accomplished and learned?
    I remember when my children were young, (2&4), when I realized all I was doing only what was expected of me. I will never forget the day when my 2 year old asked me to do something for him, and I said,”I will as soon as I finish my cup of tea!” What a moment THAT was for me!!! I broke all the ‘rules’ and really enjoyed that tea. And you know what? My son was just fine with that!!
    The best thing we can do in our time on this good earth is to take care of ourselves. If we do that, all the rest will fall into place and we will have lived a full, happy life!

  • Kelly Pratt

    I too agree with the earlier comments … the “should” word always gives me pause. One of my mom’s favorite lines as I was growing up was “quit should-ing on yourself!” – smart woman…

    Christine, your post also makes me think of that song by Sondheim called I’M STILL HERE. Shirley MacLaine does it very well in POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE… (√ it out on YouTube)


    basically, I think life would be pretty boring if we weren’t all beautiful works in progress 🙂

  • Michelle Pier

    Thank you for this. I am 25, and it is a relief to really feel (and not just “know”) that adjustment never ends, and it also validates my values in quality of life, and really enjoying every moment, regardless of where you are and what your current “ongoing adjustments” are. I can just smile, and continue to let go of present notions of what or how anyone “should” or “shouldn’t” be in life. Not feeling like I’m working toward an endpoint, but rather just maximizing my creative joy in each moment!

  • David Jackson

    Yet Another Guy. The only person I would ask this question of is my Chiropractor. This seems to me to be the same discussion as “when I get there, I’ll have it made” There is no there, there. I also agree with the comments on SHOULDness. Don’t should on yourself or others. Should has become for me an alarm word like fingernails on a chalkboard, I wince when I hear it. And I see a streak of perfection thrown in. As previously commented: Call me crazy, overwhelmed, odd poorly dressed, …. anything but well-adjusted.

  • Colin Munroe

    My first question to this person would be “what does well adjusted look like?” A subtext question not mentioned here might also be “why have I been working on myself so hard for so long and I still don’t feel any different? Am I failing the program, or is it failing me?” Let’s hear from some guy’s out there!

  • Ana Goncalves

    Dear Christine,
    I believe that adjustment is an ongoing journey and that there will come a time when one will just be as they are, and radiate their energy out to the world and their adjustments will dissolve into something quite beautiful; the positive change they wish to see in the world. Until then, the adjustments are part of that ongoing journey to reach a level of clarity and they help a great deal to reach a stage, where no more adjustments are needed and one can just be freely in their flow of life.

  • Sue

    Every family has its black sheep, and I am that person. Of my siblings, I chose the risky lifestyle, the entrepreneurial path, the only divorce ever in 3 generations and constantly re-invention of myself as I age. I’ve always felt a deeply embedded authentic vein in my passion for life and the path I have been on and as a result never felt maladjusted to my life. This year I turned 60 and as I move towards 61, this is the first time age has every caused me to feel confinement in the number of years going forward to continue that flow towards self growth, self challenge, creativity, joy, passionate embrace. I see my remaining years (possibly 40 at last count) to be years of accelerated growth, awareness and joy in living regardless of my circumstances. We are here to learn and to teach by example, who are we to fulfill our destiny as teachers of future generations if we do not experience challenge. Being well-adjusted seems like the safe route, the colourless existence that might be a nice safe place to rest and regroup but sooner than later comes that old WhaHOOOOO let’s get moving! Adrenlin starts pumping and we are on the move again.

  • Jamie

    There’s always this small part of me that wants to get things figured out. But the rest of me loves that I am constantly evolving, learning and growing. I believe that if I stopped and settled into my life it would lose that magic and adventure. It might be easier to stop and do what I feel society thinks is right for me, but I don’t ever plan to follow by societies stifling rules or ideas. I want to be free to fly, live and find my own way on this soul journey. Besides, the view is much better up here.

  • Kim DuBois

    I know how she feels! In my last meditation I asked to ‘see’ all that I needed to see, because I was tired of ‘working on’ things. I was shown a sea of iceburg tips, stretching far into the horizon! *sigh… Life is about growth, change and expansion. I can only hope I get to experience the rest of all those iceburgs in this life time!


  • Mindful Mimi

    Well-adjusted? To what?
    And why just ‘well’? That’s a bit better than mediocre, but so far away from great or excellent…
    And ‘adjusted’ sounds like having to squeeze in a whole that was not made for you…

    I personally think if you’re well-adjusted you’re not being you, you are just a person adjusted to whatever life or people throw at you. On the other hand, if you ask that question you are probably in a situation that you somehow created or made happen. This ‘fear and excitement’ didn’t just pop up out of the blue, did it? I guess you must have asked to Universe at least for the excitement… Well darling, sometimes that comes with the fear (even though you did not ask for THAT). It’s like paying for a roller coaster ride because you want the excitement of falling… And then you sit on the thing and you have this fear creep up the back of your neck and you’re asking yourself ‘what the heck am I doing here?’ and you want to just climb out and go have an ice cream.
    But then, you scream your fear away and it turns into excitement and when it’s over you think…oh, I might just go again 🙂

    So instead of sitting down, eating all the ice cream you can, ask yourself whether a nice ride from time to time is really such a bad idea.

    Oh and never adjust to anything you don’t fit 🙂 Accept, change, adapt, say not but don’t adjust.


  • Suzanne

    “Well-adjusted” makes me feel like I will be marching down into that same deep rut so many seem to travel. And once there I might find it just too comfortable, or maybe too much effort to climb the walls and escape into some new adventure that will fill my life with new knowledge and new wonder. I like Meg’s “finely-tuned”, which creates an image of searching for and moving into the right space I need to be in, the right people around me, the right purpose to my life for where I am at this moment in time. And then I can re-tune myself when I am ready to open myself for new things, new adventures, new illuminations. Off to do some tuning, right now.

  • Rhiannon

    Love the responses here as that question does pop up now and again. The idea of considering it fine tuning instead is great. As is the reminder of how universal it is, regardless of age.

  • Karen

    I like the concept of ‘fine tuning’ my somewhat well-adjusted self – with the caveat that the fine tuning will probably never end . There’s just too much growing to do and too many possibilities left to pursue.

  • M Light

    With two knee surgeries in two years (aerobics injury) and two kids heading off to college in two years, I feel unsettled enough already. Everything else should stay the same – right?! Instead, having never acted before, last summer, I got involved in a musical put on by our community theater. That was scary enough, but I was recently asked to teach the songs to the adults for this summer’s production, which REALLY scares me – that’s always a sign to me that I should do it.

  • Christine Kane

    I don’t know what it is, exactly – but i LOVE it when people add their own passion and fire and long answers to short blog posts. thanks for all these GREAT (and sometimes laugh out loud) additions to the occasional self-doubts even successful women occasionally experience!

  • Lorraine

    “Isn’t there an age at which I should stop growing, trying, expanding, risking… living?”

    “Aren’t other woman done with fear and uncertainty by the time they’re, say, 40?”

    “Shouldn’t my emotions have shut down by now?”

    “Shouldn’t I feel ashamed for not having it all figured out?”

    “Wouldn’t it be better if I just stayed put and did what was expected of me?”
    “Shouldn’t I be well-adjusted by now?”
    I define well-adjusted as being able to face each days responsibilities without fear and with the knowledge that you, in general can handle what the world throws at you.

    “Appropriate women plan their lives so they can retire in Boca and play golf, don’t they?”
    Not my goal!

    “Shouldn’t I avoid this discomfort in favor of fitting in?”A square peg won’t fit in a round hole, unless the hole is a large enough circle or the hole is square.

    “Don’t normal people stop trying new things at a certain point?”
    Unfortunately, many do and they are boring.

    “Shouldn’t I have control over, say, everything by now?”
    I’ll settle for being concerned about the things I can control.

    I’m 67 and planning my retirement from the business I’ve run for the last 40+ years. I’m not sure when it will happen, but it’s time to think and plan, not time to do it yet. I have many ideas for what I will do instead.

  • Allison

    My well-adjusted is “sorted”! I came to this path over tweleve years ago now when the life I thought I had came crumbling down around my ears. I thought at the time that if I could just get myself sorted that I could get back on track. I used my counselling as a kind of personal improvement plan – to sort myself out! When I had done that – it would all be alright.

    Well twelve years or so down the line realise that the crumbling was the best thing that ever happened – it woke me from my sleep and open my eyes to what it really is to live. I’m not trying to be someone different, just more of who I already am.

    Saying this not a week goes by when its all getting too much or I feel sad, angry, frightened that I don’t want to go back to sleep, when I feel ambivalent to living my life. But in those a little voice inside says you know this will pass and your really don’t want it any other way.

    As I saw once on a postcard: “The point to life is life itself”.

  • Dianne

    I just connected to this link this a.m.–I think I have stumbled on to something good—I am thoroughly enjoying the comments and laughed out loud at ” and…if I was well adjusted I’d probably re-read my comments before I posted them!”–I do that–except I vowed to just write this no matter–so if it sounds unedited–it is.

  • Z.

    I think there’s a Zig Ziglar quote about self development being like brushing your teeth and bathing. Practicing these things daily is maintaining yourself.

  • Meg

    Just hearing “well-adjusted” makes me tired! I spent years trying to be well-adjusted. I sought what I thought would make me happy, based on what the media, my family/fiends and society were touting as happy-making. In the end, it left me drained and sad.

    What feels much better to me these days is going for “finely tuned” — tuned into my own wants, needs, dreams, feelings, strengths & intuition. By paying attention to my deeper self, I now have the energy and courage to take steps and risks that are opening up a brighter, richer life for me. It’s not always easy, but at least I know I am living authentically and that just thrills me!

  • Laure

    I take Vanessa’s question a little differently, as in “I’m tired of my own voice, my own thoughts, my own fears, my own……when do I get to step past this part/stage/fear?”

    And the answer would be, “when I choose to.”

    No one can do it for us. No one can deem us normal, well-adjusted, over it, past it or how ever we choose to describe it. I’ve come to think of it as “making progress” and as long as I’m making progress and it feels right, well then, the rest of the questions really don’t matter. Progress, not perfection.

    Great topic and great thoughts here!!

  • Sydney

    If I were well-adjusted by now, I would have stop growing and evolving as a person. I wouldn’t be facing any new challenges. Life would be pretty darned dull.

  • Laura

    These are great comments. Patrice’s message reminds me of my teenage son asking me, “Mom, why would anyone want to be normal?” I tried to be for a few years, but I’m thankfully over that. Your question reminds me of the saying that if you’re not growing, you’re dying.

  • Patrice

    I used to wish I were “normal” (well-adjusted) — and I tried it on for a while in my late 30s, but it felt too boring and stifling. Now I know that if I had stayed “well-adjusted”, I would have missed out on some of the best, most exciting years of my life!

    Now I shoot for confident with the energy it takes to move forward with courage! Sometimes it’s easier to achieve than others.

  • elaine

    ..and…if I was well adjusted I’d probably re-read my comments before I posted them!

  • elaine

    Could well-adjusted be just also be a little bit boring? I’m not sure… never having ever been ‘well-adjusted’ myself 😉

    Great post!

  • MAX

    emerson said something like this:
    “you don’t grow old.
    when you stop growing,
    you are old.”

  • Jadyn

    @ Christine
    My mom was pregnant with me (her first child) at 27 – and just like your mom getting married at 25 was for you, it is definitely a reason that I’ve always felt I should have things together more at this age! 🙂 But you are right, there are different versions of ‘clueless’ for every age.

  • Carol

    I remember a friend saying to me (back in my late thirties) after a year of seismic change, “maybe you’re due some quieter time?” Well, for a while…now events expected (and not) and recent losses in midlife have brought on this kind of clueless intensity. The birds outside are impossibly beautiful, music just sears me. And it’ll probably morph into something else down the road.

    The only thing I notice for sure is that I tend to “allow” more, and want to extend that same gift inward. Great, great topic. I’m enjoying reading the responses.

  • Tonya Leigh

    Well-adjusted. Such a fascinating word, isn’t it? Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced it. When I get close to the word, I find something else to throw me back into the unadjusted category. The joys of being a “7.”

  • Your Joy

    whenever a “SHOULD” question presents itself,
    i use it as a signal to ask a deeper question.

  • furiousball

    No. Getting everything answered and in place means you’re done. You’re not done are you? Enjoy the bumps, the lows and doubts fill up your sails for the beautiful parts of life. Embrace the emptiness and yuck.

  • Christine Kane

    Go Kira!

    Jadyn (and Darlene too) – i remember thinking that since my mom got married at 25 – then that would be the age at which i would have it all figured out – and life would stop changing. (Then I remember hitting 25 and thinking, “Wow. I’m clueless! How’d my mom have it all figured out by this age?” 🙂 ) Anyway, every new age brings on a new -albeit wiser – version of “clueless.” It is good!

    Laine – “Bah.” I like that.

  • Jadyn

    I do think it’s so important to realize that every chance we take brings up its own dirt and not matter how much we’ve grown there will always be stuff to deal with – and that’s okay.

    I think it’s easy at any age to think you should be further along. I am 27 (young to some people, already old to others :)) and feel like I should be more confident and more accomplished than I am. But I know that I only hurt myself by holding onto an ideal idea of who I should be. It stops me from actually taking chances and taking on challenges that will help me grow.
    And I don’t imagine that this process of growing will ever change – since I am human and have lots of thoughts and emotions and life always adds its own challenges to the mix. I do think I will still be pushing through things when I’m 90! And joyfully so.

    I also think that everyone seems ‘normal’ until you get to know them. We all have some of the same fears and insecurities, but not everyone is willing to face them. The people that inspire me the most are the ones who are willing to be transparent and who choose joy and beauty and taking chances in the middle of it – those who allow their heart to expand.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Christine!

  • laine

    Shouldn’t I be married by now? Should I have or at least want kids by now? Shouldn’t I be settled into my job right now and not thinking of changing? Should my business be running smoothly by now?

    Bah, I say. Fear and excitement are normal and good. It’s what we do after we feel them that matters. Do we believe the fear and not act? Or do we say “hey fear, thanks for coming to the party, here’s what we’re doing today.”

  • Darlene

    So if you’re well-adjusted, you should stop growing, developing, questioning, trying new things, and shut down your emotions? According to this mindset, the synonym of “well-adjusted” is dead! ; ) (winkie face)

    As long as we’re in the world of the living, there will always be new challenges and new things to adjust to. This is a part of life. I remember many years ago, my first husband said to me right after we were married, “I thought all our problems would be solved once we got married!” My response was, “Well, yeah, those problems ARE solved, but now we have new ones to deal with.” That was about 35 years ago, and guess what, your life is NEVER without problems (challenges). Being well-adjusted is having the ability to deal with life as it comes along, not expecting that you will never again have to face a challenge.

  • Kira

    I’d answer her question with a rowdy, “No, hell no!” To me, *Well-Adjusted* stinks of the same sort of mythological siren song that seduces the sailors to the rocks, but in our case, its the seduction of mediocrity. The 9-5 whatever job, the 2.5 kids, one vacation a year and *choke* reasonable shoes!
    Call me crazy, call me dangerous, call me tired, overwhelmed and a little scared, but please…. never call me well-adjusted.

  • Christine Kane

    wow – cool thoughts so early in the morning!

    Moniker – i do appreciate you defining well-adjusted – and i see that in the literal translation it’s not a bad thing to want to be — AND the way in which it was presented was more self-deprecating (as if well-adjusted meant “no more challenges, please.” !) So, i’m not calling for lots of badly adjusted women here – just more women willing to feel uncomfortable and be okay with continuing their expansion and growth – much like Kathy has written about!

    Thanks for your bonus blog Kathy! 🙂 when i’m 89 – i KNOW i will still be striving to be my best self! (and you?)

  • Kathy

    I actually looked up the definition of “well-adjusted” and the first one is:

    “Having adapted or conformed suitably to new conditions”

    Defined that way, “well-adjusted” isn’t something you merely achieve once but kind of a finish line that keeps moving, because there are always “new conditions” to adapt or conform to (at least in my life!)

    What I get from the question (and the ones you listed contained in it), though, is that Vanessa, by well-adjusted, may mean: settled, have it all together, satisfied, where she wants to be.

    And honestly…I don’t know if most people ever get there. I think that maybe the world has just conditioned us to what we’re supposed to do, a timeline that’s normal, a checklists of shoulds — and some people are very, very skilled at adhering to that. They fall in line and they either feel like it’s enough or act like it’s enough. We have a tendency of trying to only show strangers our best, right?

    I am an artist and whenever anyone stumbles upon my work, they see what I’ve achieved in the past four years…but not a single one of the many tears I’ve cried on the way, not the self-doubt or pressures or fears, not the many abandoned pieces in rubbermaid containers under my bed or me having to put my 70 year old dad’s shoe on in the mornings because he can’t do it himself (or all the other many other difficulties born of his right leg being amputated last year). When I blog about my work, I don’t mention that I’m terminally single and most days, I like that, but many days, I wish there was someone around to say, “hey, hon, I’ve got this…go relax” when I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders and feel so desperately screwed up because I’d have no idea how to accept that if it came my way.

    I guess what I’m saying is — we sometimes get the feeling that everyone in the world is “well-adapted” but us, but that’s just because we don’t see everyone else’s insides and a lot of times, we keep the balls we’re juggling hidden from the outside world and we, too, may seem well-adapted when we’re not, realy.

    All that said, though, if the definition of not being well-adapted is you’re 89 years old and you’re still striving to be your best self?

    I have a lot of “stuff” to deal with. I am no where near my best self. I do adapt well to every situation I’m put in — but by Vanessa’s definition, I’m no where near well-adapted. BUT I am, every single day, striving to be a better me, to figure out what I want, and to do my best to get there.

    Your blog and newsletters have been a huge help there, Christine, so thank you, and thank you for asking our opinions on this one.

    One thing I’ve learned this morning is that, though we may feel it’s appropriate to act as if we’re well-adapted? Release and showing someone else all those balls you’ve got in the air can be such a wonderful, freeing thing. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to write here some things I haven’t said to anyone, ever.

  • Moniker

    The secondary definition of adjust is “to put in good working order.” Couldn’t “well-adjusted” simply be used as a way of saying “I am in good working order;” meaning, not that I am “done,” but I am properly working and well equipped to continue to adjust according to my life?

    Doesn’t a well-adjusted person take things in stride, see things for what they are, diffuse drama? Speaking of “well-adjusted” as a static descriptor could be as much a mistake as seeing “spotlight” or “shine” as a one-time, one-size-fits-all deal. “Well-adjusted” doesn’t need to be an end goal or even a judgment call. Couldn’t it be as much a part of the journey as any other potentially positive state of being?