When I was younger, I would have been hard-pressed to define what it meant to grow up, but it was the thing I desired most. I came to believe growing up meant having experiences would somehow change the essence of who I was.

Having experiences, as it turned out, was not enough to change the essence of who I was around other people: too-energetic, too-enthusiastic and optimistic to the point of being annoying. I couldn’t have pinpointed this as a young person, but now I know: all that “too-much-ness” was a mask to cover up severe social anxiety, a crushing need to be liked and debilitating self-loathing.

Years passed. Even as I had lived an interesting life, adding experience to experience, I still talked too fast, I couldn’t help but run when a normal person would walk (much to the dismay of my colleague Sonia), I still couldn’t control my impulses, especially at the extremes of my creative process.

So what is Gravitas?

I discovered this word about ten years ago and realized that it addressed my youthful desire to finally grow up.

Gravitas is a mish-mosh of both verbal and non-verbal communication. It is seriousness, dignity, composure, credibility, authenticity all wrapped up in a self-aware, confident package.

It is that element which, as a young person, I knew instinctively was missing. Gravitas was what I imagined when I said I “wanted to grow up.”

How do I get from here to there?

There is no easy roadmap to Gravitas. It is something that is very personal and incredibly hard to define in a global way. It is not a function of age. Malala has it. Greta Thunberg has it. Margaret Thatcher had it. Kamala Harris has is. Queen Elizabeth has it.

Once I realized, however, that this was a real concept, not just some childhood idea, that I could make real progress on, I quickly set about attempting to identify the characteristics which seemed most far off from who I was at the time. I was unwittingly discovering the Ideal Life Exercise, long before I got started on it.

By defining what I thought Gravitas looked like, I was able to see what about me I would need to make progress on.

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as who you become by achieving your goals

–some famous writer, maybe Thoreau, maybe Goethe but likely Zig Ziglar

Simply by identifying what it would mean to grow up, I was making progress. (And we know how I love progress!!!!)

A few false starts

As image-obsessed as I can be, I thought for sure that if I started by “looking grown-up”, I could fake it till I made it.

I thought that I knew what Gravitas would look like. That year I decided to re-vamp my wardrobe, I was drawn to sophisticated looks in navy blue and crisp silhouettes. My Pinterest inspirations were all sailor-chic.

I thought that if I could make that happen, I would somehow end up finding the rest of my Gravitas along the way.

This was not to be. Yes, Gravitas has a “look”, but without doing the inner work first, I was just trying to put lipstick on a hyperactive pig.

In my Ideal Life, I am a person who:

  • speaks her mind with concision
  • is calm, slow, strong and composed
  • knows what she wants and is patient while she works to get it
  • does not confuse hobbies for work
  • manages her anxiety
  • has remarkable self-discipline
  • behaves the same in private as in public
  • has well-placed self-assurance and is self-aware
  • has her $#!t together
  • stays quiet when she has nothing useful to add
  • doesn’t listen to gossip
  • is classy
  • lives in harmony with the ups and downs of her creative process

The Exercise:

What is working?: The answers to this question usually read like a junior high schooler’s diary entry. They will often be stupid little things: “I didn’t panic when I got up to the cashdesk because I already had my wallet out” (no, really.) Or, “cut my neighbor off when she started to talk about the lady upstairs.)

It can also be more down-to-earth: “I avoided a creative crash by taking a walk,’ or “I didn’t eat those cookies,” or “I knew that my irritation was hormonal and shut up before I got out of control.”

What isn’t working?: This is nearly always related to my social ineptitude. “I was so nervous that I just kept talking,” and “I couldn’t say no.”

Things to consider: I like to read about women who have it together. I am particularly interested in reading about women I admire and whatever little nuggets I can glean from their journeys.

I also still like to think about how what I wear sends messages about who I am. I am trying to send a consistent message about this, and also learning that “Fairy Princess Chic”, as long as I really own it, and it represents who I am inside, can have its own form of Gravitas.

Things to do: This is often a little personal challenge. For example, stop talking so much, just for one day. Or, walk more slowly, just for today. Anything that can help me feel a little more grown up is game.


Proof that an old dog can learn new tricks, I am trying, finally, to work out what it means to grow-up, and growing up doesn’t mean wearing a navy-blue pant suit all the time. I am also learning to accept what my husband said long before he ever became my husband: enthusiasm and energy is very much part of who I am and I can’t unknot that from who I am; in fact, were I to try, I would make myself miserable.

Peeling back the layers of what is “really me” and what is “mask of who I thought I should be” has been essential to this process. Discovering what is at the gooey center of who I am means that I can finally live authentically. Living authentically, for me, might mean wearing tulle petticoats from time to time.

My Gravitas looks nothing like Queen Elizabeth or Kamala Harris, but as long as it is authentically me, then I will have made progress.

In my Ideal Life, my insides and outsides match.

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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