Grow up.



What does it mean to be an adult? By law, it means to be a certain age. In the animal world, it means to be fully developed. But when talking to friends, the definition is much more convoluted. It seems to be less “to be” and more “to feel.” And as loose as the definition “to feel” is, the flexibility around being an adult makes the whole thing seem more a choice than a rite of passage.

Change is good.
When I was growing up in the 70s, I watched TV programs that explained what a grown-up was in the 50s. They were married, owned their own home, had secure jobs and had kids. That’s it. It was a very simple path and a very simple definition.

Like most things after WWII, life was boxed into manageable bits and the advent of the common TV brought on the advent of the consumer approach to being an adult – having things. The house, the car, the lawn mower, the spinning globe bar, the Tupperware, etc. But the things were all about home and family because the definition of adult didn’t leave a lot of room for deviation.

And then came the swinging 60s, the rocking 70s, the greedy 80s and so on until everything about our 50s-2.5-kids-lifestyle had changed. Both men and women are in the workforce, we’re over-educated, we’ve moved back into the cities, we don’t have to have kids (and we’re not), we’re divorced and we no longer define adulthood by marriage and bungalows. In fact, we no longer define it at all.

Feeling grown up. Sometimes.
Ask people now, and they will say being an adult is not about age or physical maturity. It’s certainly not settling down in your early 20s with a family in the suburbs. It’s more about how they feel when they perform adult-like activities: moving out, getting their first corporate job, paying their own bills. But like most feelings, they fluctuate between adult and other emotional states.

They can feel adult when paying the rent, but then feel like a kid when using their credit card or going out for drinks. They feel adult when getting to work on time, but then feel like a kid when they call in sick to go to a ball game. Adult today seems to equal adult-like things, which is a transactional approach and doesn’t help define what it means to be an adult, but rather just lists some of the things adults do. It’s more like pretending to be an adult to get the perks.

Or avoiding being an adult altogether, as I’ve learned from my 30- to 40-year-old friends. We seem to be afraid of being a grown-up. We have Peter Pan complexes. We have this pre-defined idea that being grown-up is boring: you suddenly have to wake up and go to bed early, eat fiber, do crossword puzzles and the scary bit – you have to have your shit in order. And a lot of us don’t. But the idea is based on that old 50s version of what it means to be an adult. 

It's okay to grow up.
It’s not so bad. I promise. It's actually one of my favourite things to be. That, and being slightly tipsy, driving fast and eating delicious food (not all together). You don’t have to have all your shit together. No one does. No one. After all, we are a work in progress. At no time are we done changing and growing.

Just this weekend, we changed our definition of what it means to be an adult. We started with a pretty basic, self-centered definition and developed a deeper, more profound definition.

In the end, we agreed that to be an adult meant you were capable and willing to take care of yourself and the immediate people and places around you. To be a great adult, you have to be responsible for more than just your immediate surroundings – you have to be responsible for the people and places in the world we all belong to. That means reading about, understanding and talking about what’s happening in the world – it means being responsible for more than your own backyard.

And for me, though we reached no consensus on this, it includes age. I don’t think we get to choose if we’re adults or not. I don’t think being an adult is a feeling. I think it’s a rite of passage, and I think it’s a right – one that we shouldn’t take for granted.  

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06/09/2014 1:38am

I absolutely love this! So well written that I have decided that I would send it to my 20 year old nephew in the hopes that it helps him as he transitions into adulthood. Simply brilliant!


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