To Be Grown-Up.

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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.


3 responses to “To Be Grown-Up.

  1. I’m twenty-three too and feel E.X.A.C.T.L.Y. the same way.

    And you know what’s funny? I had just finished writing you “the letter” where I was telling you about not feeling grown-up yet and not knowing what to do next, when I read this post.

  2. I can definitely identify with you. I supposedly have a “grown-up” job, that people have been calling a career, but today a coworker realized that I’m younger than her son. So am I an adult or not?

    Becoming an adult I think is a very sneaky thing. It’s like your hair growing out. You see it every day, but, all of a sudden, one day you realize that your hair’s long and it’s time for a haircut.

    Or maybe there’s no such thing as an adult, but you just learn to fake it better with time.

  3. skippingstones

    I’m 41 and I mostly don’t feel like a grown-up. If you read a newspaper article about an 18-year-old woman, I don’t think much of it. But if I have to describe myself, I think, “well I’m just a normal girl”. My body feels older, but my heart doesn’t. Maybe some of us never really do grow up. And maybe there’s nothing wrong with that.

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