Actual Adulting Versus How I Imagined Adulting
I’m over 18. Am I an adult yet? I’m not married and I don’t have any kids. Am I not an adult yet? I am barely scraping by financially, even with a Master’s degree. Is this how adult life is supposed to be? I don’t rely on my family to support me. Does that qualify me as having achieved adulthood? I can’t support my family back home yet. Does that make me less of an adult? The truth is there isn’t a magical scale to tell us if we are doing it right. Maybe adulting is a rotating sphere that sometimes we do well, and sometimes we screw up. Maybe there isn’t some “correct” way to adult. There are morals and standards individuals choose to live by that vary not just from culture to culture, but from cul-de-sac to cul-de-sac.
As I approached the ripe old age of 22 years old, I was sure I knew everything there was to know about being an adult. I was adulting hard and I was really good at it. I was consistently making the Dean’s list at university, I had an amazing job, a seemingly enviable domestic situation, plenty of money, and all the answers to every moral dilemma anyone could throw at me. My optimistic youthful ambition was my Oyster Card, ready to top-up and take me anywhere in the world I wanted to go. Relationships and financial decisions all seemed easy: trifling problems I could totally figure out if I just put my mind to it.
By the time I turned 24, however, I came to understand that I really didn’t know anything. Not just about the world around me, but also about how I fit into it, how to navigate it, or where I belonged in it. All the confidence I had about my ability to direct myself within the labyrinth of adult decision making shattered. Suddenly moral ambiguities, once so black and white, turned terrifyingly seductive overnight. I realized I had no idea how I was supposed to pilot my chosen path once life shifted outside of the teenage plans I’d imagined for myself.
These days I’m still generally convinced I know next to nothing about how to interact with the world in what might be considered an “adult” manner. When it comes to feeding myself, my choices mostly fall back on what my finances will allow. As teenagers, my friend and I used to wonder “who will buy us liquor tonight?”, as in, who could we give money to with a valid, age-appropriate ID, that would be willing to go into the store and make the purchase on our behalf? Now we wonder “who will buy us liquor tonight?” because we are poor and decided to buy food instead of wine. I imagined I would have more money by now, or that my Master’s degree would be useful in obtaining gainful employment. Instead I struggle every month to pay my student loans, my rent, and all of my bills on time.
I definitely thought I would have more things figured out by now, more than ten years into my own adulthood, (finances, relationships, how to go to bed on time) but I don’t. I have a 401k, but I don’t really know how it works. In fact, I’m not entirely convinced that workplace retirement funds are actually any safer than Bitcoins. I’m not sure how the stock market works. I’m not convinced I know how adult relationships are supposed to work. I once thought that boys and relationships were incredibly important and deserving of my full attention and emotional concentration. Now I know that most boys I fall in love with are ultimately the worst and mess up my life in a wide varieties of ways. If adulting is the ability to pick a suitable partner, I have absolutely not mastered that skill yet. If adulting is mastering the art of not needing a romantic partner to be emotionally stable, then I guess I have achieved that.
When it comes to my personal life I have made some pretty spectacular missteps along the way. Do those experiences qualify me an adult? I have carried around guilt and anger and have forgiven myself (mostly), and forgiven others. Does that make me an adult? The realm of adulthood is expansive and inclusive, and not just based on age. I know plenty of people who are “grown-ups” based on their chronological age, but many of them act like children in the way they choose to live their lives, and the truth is most of those people seem pretty happy. Maybe adulting is not living by anyone else’s standards, but embracing your own journey by which you’re able to discover your own happiness, and not feeling guilty about it.
What I have figured out is that adulting is a concept and not a literal destination. There is no definition of how to achieve it. “Adult” means fully grown or mature, but most of us members of humanity are never done growing and learning. We are prone to changes of opinion and lifestyles as our perception of the world evolves with our experiences. I have no idea what or how I will feel, or where I’ll find myself 15 years from now. What’s important to me now and what will be important to me then will surely have changed. There is no way of knowing what the future will bring, but we can make educated choices based on our personal values about which path in life to follow. Maybe adulting is about future goals: having them and working toward them in a systematic manner. I still have goals. I want to be a hacker, learn to fly planes, speak more languages, have money to put in a savings account, and possibly become an international spy. Mostly I don’t want to have to live on credit cards. I can probably achieve at least a few of those goals in my lifetime. Will that, finally, make me an adult?