Sometimes I wonder when I’m going to be an adult.
I guess in a technical sense, I became an adult when I turned eighteen and was old enough to vote and buy cigarettes. And maybe I also became an adult when I turned twenty-one and could legally consume and purchase alcohol. But those numbers seem so arbitrary, and now I’m twenty-three and don’t feel much more like an adult than I did when I was a teenager. Most of the time I feel like Tom Hanks in the movie Big: a kid in an adult’s body, just trying to pass as a grown-up. I feel like an imposter.
The term “grown-up”, when I think about it, seems somewhat problematic. Whereas “growing up” is a presently-happening phenomenon, a journey, to say “grown up” implies cessation and completion of that process. “Grown up” means there’s no growing left to be done. And maybe this is just where my brain goes, but if you aren’t growing and making mistakes and learning from them, doesn’t that mean you have everything figured out? I have this image of adulthood as being settled and comfortable and content, and perhaps this is why I’m anxious to get to that point. But: is there ever really a point where you have everything figured out? Maybe my concept of adulthood is just a placebo that I’m hoping will cure my reality.
There are so many cultures that have a distinct rite of passage for the transition from youth to adulthood, but I feel like there are hundreds of rites of passage in American culture. It gets me thinking about life milestones that could potentially signal a shift toward adulthood: graduating from high school; moving out of your parents’ house; getting your first real job; graduating from college; travelling alone; buying a car; getting married; having children; selling out to The Man; having a mortgage; purchasing life insurance; having grandchildren; becoming an AARP member; etc.
I have half of those things and I still feel like such a kid! I often feel infinitely ill-equipped to exist in an adult world, and all of the dips and bends make me panic and second-guess myself. Maybe adulthood is just a matter of being able to take things in stride. I’m still working on that.