In the days before my mom left me alone in New York City to begin my senior year of college, we had the obligatory “I can’t believe how fast time is going” conversation. In other words, marveling in astonishment at how quickly I had grown into an adult. In the moment, I found myself agreeing, but the more I thought about it, the more I wasn’t sure “adult” was the correct word to use.
Before she turned 21, my mom moved cross-country on her own, rented a house, went to school, held down a well-paying job, and had a functional social life. On the other hand, I’ve been known to spend entire days in a blanket burrito watching reruns of Adventure Time on my laptop. Put us side by side, and it’s obvious who anyone would label the “adult.”
A few weeks later, I met a couple of friends for dinner. After talking about our semesters abroad, internships, and classes, the subject of adulthood crept into our conversation. As we struggled to hear each other over the din of the restaurant, we all came to the same conclusion that there was still so much we didn’t know.
One of my friends commented that after she turned 20, she was struck with the realization of not how old, but how young she felt.
Ironically, that entire evening was very “adult-y” of us. Three friends meeting for dinner at a trendy neighborhood restaurant to catch up and call it a night at a reasonable hour because of work the next day. We mimicked the caricature of the “young New York professional” perfectly.
Despite the uncertainty that characterized our discussion, there are plenty of facets of my life that could lead someone to label me as an adult. I make my bed every morning. I don’t let dirty dishes sit in the sink. I have a designated cleaning day each week. I own a small decorative table covered in small decorative things.
My friends even label me as a “grandma” because I like to get up early and enjoy my morning coffee before I head out the door.
However, my generation tends to label these activities and accumulation of certain possessions as “adulting,” rather than “adulthood.” The context therefore changes adulthood to a temporary activity than a permanent state of being.
This generational trend also implies that when we’re not “adulting,” we’re acting like children, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Thanks mostly in part to the Internet, the cultural trends of my generation’s childhood still surrounds us every day. We celebrate the events, stories, and characters that shaped us as children. While our development of independence may be a little slower than that of our parent’s generation, our tendency to cling to our childhoods keeps our ideas inventive and our outlook on the future positive.
There’s no way around growing older or learning the skills necessary to lead a functional and independent life, but leaving behind the optimism and wonder of childhood is a choice. There’s a reason so many great minds say that once you forget what it’s like to be a child, you lose a valuable part of yourself that can never be recovered.
In short, childhood and adulthood (to use those labels) shouldn’t be a choice, but a friendly coexistence. You should be able to go to work and then come home and unwind with a couple episodes of Spongebob if you want to. “Adulting” is perhaps a better term than we give it credit for.
Being an “adult” is not a magical transformation or a higher plane of existence to aspire to. It’s simply the gradual process of feeling less like an imposter every time you find yourself in a new situation. There will be some days when you think you have it all figured out, and are some days you won’t. That’s life.