When Are You Really an Adult?

What adulthood means in a society is an ocean fed by too many rivers to count. It can be legislated, but not completely. Science can advance understanding of maturity, but it can’t get us all the way there. Social norms change, people opt out of traditional roles, or are forced to take them on way too soon. You can track the trends, but trends have little bearing on what one person wants and values. Society can only define a life stage so far; individuals still have to do a lot of the defining themselves. Adulthood altogether is an Impressionist painting—if you stand far enough away, you can see a blurry picture, but if you press your nose to it, it’s millions of tiny strokes. Imperfect, irregular, but indubitably part of a greater whole.

Julie Beck writing in The Atlantic 

Adulting Burnout

“The modern Millennial, for the most part, views adulthood as a series of actions, as opposed to a state of being,” an article in Elite Daily explains. “Adulting therefore becomes a verb.” “To adult” is to complete your to-do list — but everything goes on the list, and the list never ends.  

That’s one of the most ineffable and frustrating expressions of burnout: It takes things that should be enjoyable and flattens them into a list of tasks, intermingled with other obligations that should either be easily or dutifully completed. The end result is that everything, from wedding celebrations to registering to vote, becomes tinged with resentment and anxiety and avoidance.  

To describe millennial burnout accurately is to acknowledge the multiplicity of our lived reality — that we’re not just high school graduates, or parents, or knowledge workers, but all of the above — while recognizing our status quo. We’re deeply in debt, working more hours and more jobs for less pay and less security, struggling to achieve the same standards of living as our parents, operating in psychological and physical precariousness, all while being told that if we just work harder, meritocracy will prevail, and we’ll begin thriving. The carrot dangling in front of us is the dream that the to-do list will end, or at least become far more manageable.

Anne Helen Petersen writing in BuzzFeed News

We're Lost Our Mirrors

Societies have rites of passage to help members deal with change. When these cues are missing and we have nothing in our lives to affirm that change is appropriate and timely, we’ve lost our mirrors. This is when a dependable support system can step up to make the difference. Just like the recovering alcoholic needs reminders about what a healthy identity looks like, we need a trusted circle of friends to remind us that the change in our lives is both positive and necessary.  And we need that circle to encourage us to embrace the new identity and not the old one.

Stephen Goforth

the risk of independence

All life itself represents a risk, and the more lovingly we live our lives the more risks we take. Of the thousands, maybe even millions, of risks we can take in a lifetime the greatest is the risk of growing up. Growing up is the act of stepping from childhood into adulthood. Actually it is more of a fearful leap than a step, and it is a leap that many people never really take in their lifetimes. Though they may outwardly appear to be adults, even successful adults, perhaps the majority of “grown-ups” remain until their death psychological children who have never truly separated themselves from their parents and the power that their parents have over them.

M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

If you’re not being challenged on a daily basis, change something

Reaching adulthood is no excuse to stop learning or growing. It just means now we’re responsible for reaching new heights in every aspect of our lives. Go for a morning jog. Ask your boss if you can have a hand in a bigger project with more responsibility. Meet new people. Keep pushing.

Alex McDaniel