What does it really mean to be an adult?
I read an article by a Millennial who at age 36 still didn’t feel like an adult. The main idea I got from this was that somehow – partly because of circumstances beyond their control – the trappings of “adulthood” have eluded many Millennials. The indicators of adulthood that this person was looking at were basically “things” – career, house, family – which to them define “adulthood”. Not having found all of those at an age when earlier generations had, they don’t feel like adults. They feel that “the economic and emotional benefits promised by adulthood are overrated.”
Me as an Adult
I considered myself an adult at 22 years old. I had graduated from College and got a real job. But looking at those “things” Millennials consider requirements for adulthood, I would not have qualified. I was not married. I lived in an apartment with two roommates and was certainly not successfully established in my career yet.
Adulthood is about being independent, responsible, self-reliant and making a contribution to society.
My determination of adulthood is not based on those “things”, as if they could be checked off a list and then you had arrived. To me adulthood is about being independent, responsible, self-reliant and making a contribution to society – things that have more to do with character than age or income level. These are qualities that reflect a shifting from a “what I want” and “what can everyone do for me” focus to more of an “I can take care of myself” and “what can I do to better care for others” perspective. Maybe this is what Millennials are really missing?
Its not about you
External economic circumstances may have contributed to Millennials feeling that things are working against them, but their focus still seems to be on self – the career that hasn’t worked out the way they wanted, not having the nice home and all the things their parents worked for years for. There is an attitude that somehow by reaching a particular age all of these things should have just been given to them as “promised”. Even the lack of a spouse and children seems to be focused on their lack of something, rather than the natural adult desire to turn outward to nurture and teach and guide the next generation.
Benefits or Opportunities?
No one “promised” me or my generation “benefits” of adulthood. The 22 year old adult me had to learn to solve her own problems. Mom and Dad were not far away, but I didn’t run to them to fix everything. I worked hard to support myself financially and had to learn to prioritize and budget to be able to acquire material things. I learned to serve others and find joy in that, rather than just pursuing adventures and entertainment and activities that I found to be fun.
Sadly, I have read some obituaries lately of 36-years-olds who died way too young. Some of them told about exciting adventures, many friends and good times, as if that was all that should fill 36 years of life. I can’t help but contrast this with obits of people my age which mention children and grandchildren and enjoying time spent with them. They mention professional accomplishments, but also public service and volunteer work.
Am I there yet? Do I want to be?
As an aging baby boomer, I guess I could also conclude that I have not arrived at adulthood because I failed to get all of those “benefits” that supposedly come with adulthood. I didn’t have a long prestigious career, a huge beautiful house and all kinds of luxuries. I haven’t traveled the world and associated with important people. I am not successful as some might define it.
But even with my definition of adulthood I find myself these days having thoughts like “I don’t want to be an adult anymore”. I get weary of the responsibility of taking care of all of the messy details of maintaining a home and a life, and dealing with difficult people. I want someone else to make the hard decisions. It would be really nice not to have to worry about anything and just be entertained. I would like to be taken care of for a change.
But then, I pull up my big girl pants and get to work doing something that will help someone else. Because I am an adult.